When Mitt Romney talked about wealth and “the hand of Providence,” I think he mistook Narcissus for a Greek god. (More)
The pundits are taking turns speculating about reasons for the success of Mitt Romney’s attack ad based on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment. All such stories presume the ad is succeeding, based on one crosstab in Gallup’s aggregate April-to-June polling that suggested President Obama may be losing support among business owners.
I say “suggested” because that crosstab found only 35% of business owners supporting the president, down from 41% in the period January-March. The second page of Gallup’s announcement notes that the poll’s margin of error was ±4%, so the seeming change could easily be two samples well within the margin of error of a constant 38% support mark. What’s more, President Obama made the “you didn’t build that” comment on June 13th and Romney released the ad a few days later, with only two weeks left in the April-June polling period.
In other words, the apparent difference in the two quarterly polls could be merely statistical noise, and most responses in the second poll were gathered weeks before President Obama said “you didn’t build that” … but the pundits are treating the poll as proof that comment and Romney’s ads are hurting President Obama. And, being pundits, they have no trouble making up stories to explain this may-not-even-be-happening event.
For example, New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait suggested that both the president’s tone of voice and his words touched off underlying racial resentment. As if on cue, several readers offered comments that seemed to prove Chait’s point. But Bloomberg‘s Josh Barro disagrees, arguing that President Obama insulted successful people:
Really? The president is always struck by people who take credit for their own successes? Obviously, every successful outcome in life – and every failed one – arises from a combination of internal and external factors. But the president’s tone when he said this, amused by the very idea of people taking credit for their achievements, was off-putting.
Frum mostly talks about why this statement irks rich people, but I believe it resonates badly with people at all income levels. Lots of people – most, I hope – are proud of something they’ve achieved in their lives and feel like that achievement owes much to their own hard work and talents. You don’t have to make over $250,000 a year to be annoyed when the president mocks people for taking credit for their achievements.
Barro then quotes a speech from Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, where speechwriter Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe) responds to a complaint about removing a fiery populist passage:
Henry, last fall, every time your boss got on the stump and said, “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share,” I hid under a couch and changed my name. I left Gage Whitney making $400,000 a year, which means I paid twenty-seven times the national average in income tax. I paid my fair share, and the fair share of twenty-six other people. And I’m happy to ’cause that’s the only way it’s gonna work, and it’s in my best interest that everybody be able to go to schools and drive on roads, but I don’t get twenty-seven votes on Election Day. The fire department doesn’t come to my house twenty-seven times faster and the water doesn’t come out of my faucet twenty-seven times hotter. The top one percent of wage earners in this country pay for twenty-two percent of this country. Let’s not call them names while they’re doing it, is all I’m saying.
Barro cites this as evidence that even Sorkin would disagree with President Obama’s message, as if this speech illustrates Sorkin’s deepest and truest beliefs. Quite apart from misunderstanding the nature of fiction, Barro seems oblivious to – or may even agree with – Seaborn’s tacit premise that, in a ‘fair share’ world, a person who paid 27 times the median tax would get to cast 27 ballots and receive 27 times better government services. We have a wealthy pundit quoting a wealthy fictional character arguing that voting and government services should ‘fairly’ be privileges of wealth … as the reason for a may-be-fictional political narrative. Maybe Barro was upset at not being among the 2012 Bippie nominees.
But perhaps we should let one of Chait’s conservative readers explain his response:
As a successful small business owner, I have never been so insulted by a President’s words before. What do you mean, I didn’t build that?!
Where was everyone else, while I was saving money every week for years to start my business with my own money?
Where was everyone else, when I spent hundreds of hours (on top of my day job) on business plans, financial forecasts, researching competitors, fine tuning my service offering, branding, marketing plans, creating the legal entity, interviewing and training employees, etc?
Where was everyone else, when I took THE LEAP?
Where was everyone else, when I was working 16 days, over and over, to make happy customers and build my business?
Where was everyone else, when I took good care of my clients and employees, instead of taking good care of myself?
AND after all of this, I have done my civic duty and paid more into the system than I, or my business, will ever get back out of it.
Now to be told “You didn’t build that!” is a slap in the face.
Where was everyone else? Well, some of them were teaching his children and maintaining his highways and bridges and dams and water and sewer lines. Some were inspecting the food he buys at the grocery and restaurants, or enforcing the laws that protect his home and business. Some were even hauling away his garbage.
All of them doing all of that, and a whole lot more, allowed him to focus on his business. Yet it’s “a slap in the face” to remind him they even exist … let alone ask him for an extra 3% on his income over $250,000 to help pay for their hard work.
This week Mitt Romney said Israelis were richer than Palestinians – and presumably wealthy Americans richer than poor Americans – in part due to “the hand of Providence.” I went on my Blewberry and looked up Narcissus, the hunter so contemptuous of others and so enthralled with himself that he gazed at his reflection until he starved to death. He is the namesake of narcissistic personality disorder, an obsession with one’s personal adequacy, power, prestige, and vanity.
Narcissus wasn’t a Greek god. He was merely an egocentric predator. To borrow an idiom I picked up in New York City while serving as BPI’s class war correspondent last fall: “I got yer hand of Providence right here.”
Good day and good nuts.