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The rich & classless assumptions

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Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, 9:20 p.m.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Rich Boy,” a short story modeled on his friend and Princeton classmate Ludlow Fowler. “They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

That pretty much describes the problem Mitt Romney has had during the entire campaign, the perception among many that he's soft, that he's too rich to understand the lives and work and problems of everyday people, that he thinks he's better than the rest of us.

Romney's “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me” statement didn't help to lessen that perception, even if he was talking about the benefits of maximizing consumer choices and buyer sovereignty in the marketplace — or more directly related to his experience at Bain Capital, talking about saving a company from bankruptcy by firing the deadwood. People focus on the 100 employees who were fired rather than the company's renewed competitiveness and the 1,000 jobs that were saved.

Romney's “Corporations are people, my friend” statement also didn't help. It gave Obama the opening to declare at campaign rallies, repeatedly, that “Corporations aren't people — people are people!”

Questionable Cherokee and Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren took it a step higher in emotion at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. “No, Gov. Romney, corporations are not people,” she bellowed. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance, they live, they love, they die!” What's left? People wreck their cars, they get their cats neutered, they take Prozac, they go to powwows and brunches, they shoot pheasants, they don't trust politicians, they still smoke pot at rock concerts, they like chargrilled steaks better than tufu with prunes, they bet on ballgames and they become Wal-Mart greeters at the end if they run out of money.

The “Corporations are people” line was a response to hecklers who were shouting that corporations should be taxed, not people. Romney was simply stating that taxes on corporations are paid by people, by shareholders, employees and consumers — people who have hearts, get jobs, get sick, cry, dance, live, love and die.

But now comes the release of Romney's comments made at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser in Florida in May, the perfect gift to those who have attempted to paint him as the candidate of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” said Romney. They “pay no income tax” and “believe that they are victims.” They “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

And so, Romney's strategy?

“I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur. E-mail him at:

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