Presidential hopefuls: Did they really say that?
While I don’t want to palm myself off as a political analyst, it looks as though the presidential showdown may see a face-off between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Perhaps given this likelihood, virtually every statement made by each man is being dissected in great detail to better understand what each might stand for over the next four years.
In the past week or so, both men have said some things that are getting tremendous exposure; an exposure that, perhaps, is incorrectly dissecting what the candidates actually said. As such, it may be appropriate to examine their actual statements and realize they are perhaps being misinterpreted.
For Mitt Romney the quote that has come back to haunt him numerous times since the day after the Florida primary is the following: “I’m not very concerned about the poor …” If this were the total of what Mr. Romney had to say, he would likely deserve much or all of the ridicule that has been heaped upon him.
In fact, the full quote is as follows: “I’m not very concerned about the poor. There’s a safety net there, and if it needs repair I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the heart of America, the 95 percent of Americans who are right now struggling.”
When taken in proper context, Mr. Romney’s statement seems reasonable and largely unremarkable. There is, in fact, a safety net for the poor, though some might question if the net remains intact and what might be the causes behind it fraying. Needless to say, there is no reason to change public policy to help “the rich” become more prosperous. Of course, simply because “the rich” are doing relatively well, one might wonder if that is just cause to set one’s legislative sights on bringing them down a notch or two. But that’s another issue for another day.
If there is anything wrong in the former governor’s statement it is his characterization of the size of the “heart of America,” that is, the 95 percent whom he says are struggling. On this matter, his figures seem to be off the mark.
First, one would have to define “the rich” who Mr. Romney is, justifiably, not concerned about. Here definitions are not clear, so let’s be very conservative and use thoughts of the Occupy Wall Street crowd who define them as the top 1 percent.
And then there are “the poor” who also raise no concerns given the safety net. Here, the U.S. does provide information, with the federal government indicating that in 2010 some 46.2 million Americans were below the poverty line. The resulting U.S. poverty rate was 15.1 percent which, when added to the OWS definition of “the rich” brings us to 16.1 percent for whom Mr. Romney shows no concern, or 83.9 percent who are, by his definition, struggling. And, indeed, many are struggling to maintain their living standards given the lack of job creation over the past few years, causing more and more “middle” Americans to topple into “the poor.” In summary, poor use of statistics, poor choice of words, but a reasonable sentiment by Mr. Romney.
Then there was President Obama who was reported by various media outlets as suggesting if Jesus were to pick sides among various tax proposals, he would be firmly behind the Obama administration’s desire to raise taxes on the rich. As with Mr. Romney, the president was being taken out of context. In a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Obama said, “For me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” The “it” in Mr. Obama’s quotation above does seem to refer to tax obligations of the rich; though the president is falling rather short of saying Jesus has already cast his absentee ballot for the Democratic candidate.
Some, such as Mr. Romney, might be inclined to point out that the “much” required of the rich could properly be that which they give voluntarily, not that which is taken by government fiat and redistributed by politicians. After all, even rich people have a personal relationship with God, not one that is mandated by government tax policies.
Whatever one’s beliefs regarding the sentiment behind these two quotations, over these next several months, we would all likely do well to examine closely what presidential candidates actually say and then give our support accordingly.
Dr. James Newton serves as chief economic advisor to Commerce National Bank and is an auxiliary faculty member in economics and statistics at OSU-Marion and OSU-Newark. Dr. Newton’s views do not necessarily reflect those of Commerce National Bank or OSU-Marion/Newark.