There’s been a lot of chatter over the last few days about whether super-wealthy candidates get a hard rap in US politics or whether Mitt Romney is being held to a higher or harder standard. Romney is probably the wealthiest man ever to run for President, even in inflation adjusted dollars. (There are some claims that Washington was wealthier but it’s based on a total misreading of the value of land during the period.) But certainly there have been many extremely wealthy men who’ve run for President and won — Roosevelts, one Kennedy, a couple Bushes, etc.
But all of this talk ignores a fact so salient and obvious that it’s hard to fathom how some are nevertheless oblivious to it. Having vast wealth and aggressively working the law and tax code to avoid taxes is a very different thing if your policy agenda is geared almost entirely to benefit the super wealthy. If you’re a gazillionaire and your main pitch is to cut taxes on gazillionaires that’s just gonna put a bit more emphasis on your wealth. This logic should not be difficult to grasp.
To put the point in even sharper relief, one admittedly partisan but likely accurate analysis of Romney’s tax proposal shows it would not only cut rates for the wealthiest Americans, it would actually raise taxes for most of the middle class.
Most voters haven’t seen that study, of course. And the policies are not dramatically different from the kind of policy proposals President Bush pushed through when he became president. But at least Bush’s platform had dollops of what he called ‘compassionate conservatism’, things that were at least notionally (and in a few cases actually) tied to helping the underprivileged. Mitt’s entire platform is cutting programs and enabling the super-wealthy to accumulate capital to create more jobs. Whether it actually works that way is another story — an economic argument that virtually no one on the center-left buys. But that really is the Mitt message. And Mitt is just not a good messenger.
He’s stuck to it I think for a mix of personal predilections and his need to cement support from the hard right of the GOP which doesn’t believe he’s really one of them. George W. Bush never had that problem.
There are a lot of turbulent cross-currents in the United States today. But one of the key ones has it that the super wealthy are leaving the rest of the country behind and that they’re playing under a fundamentally different set of rules, ones they’ve written for themselves by owning the political process — on the right it’s expressed as rage at bailouts for bankers, on the left it’s focused on tax breaks and stuff like that. When people hear that Romney pays a 15% flat tax rate and has a lot of his money parked in tropical islands they know that he’s living in a very different world. As a lot of Republicans are recognizing right now, Romney can easily come off like a caricature plutocrat, something that spans from his tax returns to his affect on the campaign trail.
If a presidential candidate is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and pays less than a 15% tax rate, it’s even harder to swallow if he’s out there saying his taxes should be even lower. That shouldn’t be hard to understand.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.