Commentary: Romney's money troubles? Too much money, maybe?
Money troubles? Mitt Romney? The guy who pays a lower tax rate than I do because I actually work? The guy whose wife drives two Cadillacs and hangs with the NASCAR owners?
Yep. He's got money troubles. Or, as we call it in Los Angeles where the disease is rampant, TMM: Too Much Money. To paraphrase the late, great Ann Richards, he keeps putting that solid gold foot of his right in his mouth. And it could cost him far more than it did George Bush, who was born with a silver foot in his.
The rule of thumb in Democratic circles used to be that "class war" (us against them, them being the millionaires and Wall Street types) got you to about 46 percent, which (barring a third-party challenge) is not enough to win you a general election. To the great frustration of many of us who lived it and watched it, "us against them" poor people (welfare mothers, black criminals) always got you higher numbers than running against Donald Trump and Wall Street. But that was then.
Then was when the average CEO made 40 times what the average working stiff did (the 1970s), or even 100 times (the early '90s), but not 300 times (the latest numbers I've found). Then was when unemployment was in single digits, a home was a good investment and kids graduated from colleges with four- or five-figure debts, not six-figure debts and no jobs.
A fat cat may be the only decent choice Republicans have, but this is not the year for fat-cat politics. It's not the year for a guy who was on board to bail out Wall Street but not the auto industry, despite his love for the height of the trees in Michigan.
And it's not just Romney who has a problem. Occupy Wall Street was misguided and mismanaged, lacking a coherent theme, a long-term strategy, sophisticated leadership and the rest. But the fact that it struck such a resounding chord notwithstanding the epic confusion tells you something about the state of America today -- or rather, to quote poor John Edwards, the two Americas.
I spend much of my time, gratefully, working for one of the most successful law firms in the world, representing many of the most successful companies in the world. The 1 percent, or maybe the 0.1 percent: people who work too hard but have the luxury of not worrying about money. I spend the rest of my life among friends and family, where the conversation almost always returns to money: friends who have no jobs or are underwater on their houses, whose kids are slammed by debt and unable to make ends meet, or relatives with no jobs and no health insurance. Money. Money worries. And I should add that these are middle-class people I'm talking about.
Middle class doesn't mean what it used to mean. Middle class means in the middle of the struggle.
Sometimes I wonder whether the people at the top understand this at all. Does Romney know what it's like to worry about money? Does he have a clue what it means to work your way through school, to think you're about to live the American dream, only to find that you can't find a job and the interest payments on your loans keep adding up? Does he know what a foreclosure notice looks like? Has he ever stood in front of an ATM that won't spit out cash?
I know, he's met Jane and Joe and Albert on the campaign trail, and a well-trained aide has trailed behind him and written down their stories so he can use them in a speech or put them in an ad. It's not the same.
Remember when George Bush lost the election in 1992 because he couldn't say how the recession had affected him? A stumper. I'm sure Romney is more prepared for that question than most Wall Streeters are, but he's not the only one who should be looking in the mirror and trying to answer it.
The danger for Romney is that he could become the symbol of the 1 percent who have no clue about the lives of everyone else and, at the end of the day, no real interest, either. It could cost him the election, but the underlying anger could cost all of us far more. It's a dangerous game, for all sides.
Class warfare may work in this election, but that's really no cause for celebration, even for those of us who are rooting against Mr. TMM.
Susan Estrich's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.