Friday, January 20, 2012

Romney Doesn’t Get It

Mitt Romney used to live in my town—Belmont, Massachusetts—but I am not rooting for the hometown boy.

Romney and his wife Ann raised their five sons in a big mansion on Marsh Street on Belmont Hill, which they sold in April 2009 for $3.5 million. The house has 6,434 square feet of luxury living space with 7 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, situated on 2.44 acres. I live down the Hill in a middle-class neighborhood and take the bus to go to work.

I have passed by Belmont Hill many times and I always marvel at the huge mansions. Needless to say I have never stepped inside the Belmont Hill Club for the super rich.

Before last Monday, almost all forecast said that Romney was poised to win South Carolina and cruise to nomination.

Yet a few hiccups on the way have upset his game. I am betting the Patriots beating the Ravens in the AFC Championship football game this Sunday. Will the hometown Mitt beat the surging Newt Gingrich? It is too close to tell, according to the many polls I have seen.

So what happens to Romney? You have to understand that for people who live in humongous mansions (his New Hampshire mansion worths $10 million and the one at La Jolla, CA worths $12 million) and frequent exclusive country clubs, $374,000 is a very small sum. That’s why he said, “I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

It is outrageous that Romney’s tax rate was about 15 percent because most of his income came from investments, while I paid tax at a higher rate. Romney’s wealth is estimated at about $250 million. He will be the richest presidential candidate if nominated.

Last night, when Romney was asked in the debate when he would release his tax returns, he was very awkward and seemed annoyed. Did he have something to hide? When his father George Romney ran for president in 1968, he released his past 12 years’ tax returns.

His failure to release his tax returns has spawned many rumors: he has parked his money in tax havens such as Cayman Islands and he has put millions in the IRA retirement account, which he is not supposed to. Much more damaging is that he might have invested in companies that outsource their jobs to other countries.

He said people who criticize him are simply envious of his success. He has earned it through hard work. He might be implying that we are just too lazy if we have not achieved his level of success.

He criticized President Obama for inciting “class warfare” and said it is divisive to speak of the one percent versus the 99 percent. Well, Mitt, we did not start the warfare. For three decades, the super rich has waged a war against the poor and the middle class. Between 1979 and 2007, incomes in the U.S. grew by 275 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of households, 37 percent for the middle 60 percent of households, and 18 percent for the poorest 20 percent of households. Today the top 1 percent of Americans holds 39 percent of the nation’s wealth and takes in 25 percent of its annual income.

Talking about economic justice is different from creating class warfare. Buying and selling companies for personal profits is not the same as creating jobs. We still have to know more about his business practices at Bain Capital.

But one thing is clear. Romney only cares about those who live up the Hill in Belmont. He speaks for them and to them. He has tin ears to those who live down the Hill. For the first time living in Belmont for the last 16 years, I received a paper bag left on my foyer last November soliciting for donations for the Belmont foodbank. Even in middle-class suburban towns like Belmont some people have to choose between paying mortgage and buying food.

Romney just doesn’t get it.