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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.