Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does This Picture Prove That Romney Is "Out of Touch" Or That Some Liberals Are Hypocrites?

First it made the rounds in social media.  Now it is plastered on the website for It is a picture that seems to show Mitt Romney getting his shoes shined on an airport tarmac, while grinning happily. Next to that image, President Obama is shaking hands with someone in a uniform commonly worn by blue collar workers. The caption states: "Notice the difference?"

Liberals have promoted the picture, claiming that it demonstrates Mitt Romney is out of touch with Americans and that he exploits low-income individuals. By contrast, Obama is a man of the people, who shakes their hands rather than using them to shine his shoes. For several reasons, the picture says more about its liberal promoters than Mitt Romney.

FIRST, the picture is highly deceptive. Romney is not getting his shoes shined. Instead, he is getting scanned by a TSA agent before boarding a charter jet. The use of deceptive photography has no place in civil political discourse.

SECOND, despite the deceptive nature of the photo, some liberals insist upon defending its use. MoveOn for example has apologized for implying that the photo shows Romney getting his shoes shined. Nonetheless, the organization says that "[w]e still feel it goes a long way in showing Mitt Romney’s special circumstances in comparison with the 99%." It is difficult to understand how a misleading picture demonstrates anything. This is poor judgment by MoveOn and others who have made similar arguments.

THIRD, even if it were true that Romney was getting his shoes shined on a tarmac, this alone would not prove anything about his character.  Wealth alone does not make a person unsympathetic to poor folks.

FOURTH, using the photo to demonstrate Romney's inability to connect with the public hypocritically ignores similar activities by other politicians -- including President Obama. Many political candidates use private planes during campaign trips. Obama does so himself.

Obama boarding campaign plane

Planes allow candidates and their staff to make multiple stops and to conduct meetings while they are traveling. Indeed, there are many photographs on the Internet of Obama traveling and boarding his own private campaign jet. Yet these photographs have never led to liberal uproar. Granted, none of the pictures shows Obama getting a security screen while sitting in a chair, but this tiny distinction could not reasonably explain the disparate reactions to the two of them. Furthermore, Obama's campaign plane has luxurious seating. Most of the "99%" have never flown in such comfort. So, if Romney's exclusive experiences make it impossible for him to understand Americans, one could reach a similar conclusion about President Obama.

Interior of Obama's campaign plane

FINALLY, liberals' disparate and partisan reactions to wealth come across as a faux class critique. There are many wealthy liberals, including esteemed persons like John F. Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. Many other presidents in US history were wealthy, and, after adjusting for inflation, some were wealthier than Romney. Some reports estimate that the Obamas hold $10 million in assets. That wealth far exceeds that of most Americans.

Furthermore, there are several ways in which all of us benefit from the work of poor laborers, many of whom earn less than persons who shine shoes for a living. Apple products, for example, are assembled in China by very poor and badly treated workers, including many young children. Restaurant staff are often underpaid and mistreated. And hotel housekeepers earn notoriously low wages. Yet, liberals eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and use Apple products.  Indeed, Obama apparently uses Apple products, in spite of the fact that the company has admitted to using child labor. If getting a shoe shine is a sign of class indifference, so are these other activities that many liberals enjoy.

A Better Debate: Analyze Policy

Liberals are using the photograph to construct a narrative about Romney. They argue that his wealth makes it impossible for him to understand the struggle that Americans are facing during this economic downturn. Even if this argument were legitimate, the picture does not convey this point. For the various reasons stated above, the picture speaks more negatively about its liberal supporters than Romney.

Romney's policy positions are far more important than his personal wealth. Also, focusing on policy is much healthier and educational for public discourse. A few years ago, liberals complained that conservatives were running from real issues by probing things like Obama's religion, his minister's anger, his fondness for arugula and Whole Foods, and his international background. During his presidency, conservatives have said that he has inappropriately taken vacations while Americans are struggling economically.  Unfortunately, some liberals are replicating this negative behavior. Shame on them.


msakel said...

Excellent article pointing out the difference between a politician's own personal wealth and his policy direction. Back in the primaries, Hillary Clinton suffered from the same form of myopic judgment misinformation and we all know how Obama sailed along, after HRC gave him a run for his Wall St. billionaire pseudo-liberal backers' money, and undeservedly 'won' (same way Bush 'won' the vote over Al Gore).

Clinton had endorsed far more progressive home-saving policies for the poor and middle class than Obama who chose to sing Kumbaya--and we all know where that got him with his admirors! She also advocated a regulatory environment far more favourable to curtailing the Wall St. Derivatives Casino catastrophe of '08!

Yes, I fully agree with Prof. Hutchison's Dissenting Justice!

P.S. Incidentally, it was Brooksley Born (a friend of Hillary Clinton) who in 1998 was head of the CFTC and advocated banning derivatives giving a Warning (also PBS doc.) on the failure to stop financial fraud. Greenspan,Summers and Rubin attacked her, with Geithner, most viciously....and we all know what happened in 2008.

Ben Weiser said...

i am by no means an admirer of obama at this stage of the game. wealthy or not, he has invited the foxes right into the hen house in terms of regulating wall st. seems his donors got what they paid for. of course, ALL the major players have received millions from various corporate interests. the outlier is Ron Paul, but i strongly oppose this "libertarian" idea that we can solve govt corruption by simply eliminating govt. all those buying influence to loosen regulations on their industry will jump for joy when he eliminates all regulation for every industry. seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. clearly, corporate interests have captured enough of the process and enough of the players that they can march there agenda through at every turn. there's been no federal investigation into mortgage malfeasance since 08, no records subpoenaed, no nothing. hydrolic fracturing is still being defended by the EPA- energy companies intentionally inject tons (literally) of water with undisclosed detergents lubricants and so forth into the ground, somehow pretending it won't seep into the water supply. genetically modified foods aren't even labeled much less tested for safety. and so on... it is no surprise that most politicians are much much wealthier than their constituents- they come from the class of people with whom they share the most interest. while they put on a show fighting about gay rights and abortion, they all are failing to eliminate massive subsidies for the oil industry. you suggest we should be focusing on their policies and not their wealth, but the wealth of our nations "leaders" DOES indicate their allegiances. decades ago the heiress of the woolworth fortune renounce her citizenship to insulate her money from US taxes. and today too their class shows they have no allegiance to this country or its people by hiding their money overseas even as they lobby on the hill and donate ever greater sums to super PACs and political candidates. we have only the illusion of choice when it comes to the more fundamental shape of our economy- slow march into corporate feudalism/serfdom or a fast march? if you are among the fortunate then congratulations i suppose but someday soon there will be a "correction in the market". watch yourself

Ben Weiser said...

but yeah some of the commenters on ... wooo, i'll concede that point. the ones with blind allegiance to the democrats really are as stupid as you think.

Ross Taylor said...

Dear Prof. Hutchison:

I think you've missed the point of much of the critique of Romney based on his wealth. You are certainly correct that there have been great progressive politicians who were quite wealthy -- FDR and Teddy Roosevelt spring immediately to mind.

The issue with Romney is not so much his wealth per se, but rather certain matters that concern it: (1) the source of his wealth; (2) his paying a very low income tax rate on his earnings; (3) banking off-shore to dodge taxes; and (4) his tone-deaf statements that do, in fact, show just how out of touch he is.

First, he acquired his wealth through leveraged buyouts, aptly referred to as corporate gutting, or corporate vulturehood. As you're doubtless aware, LBO's used the target company's own assets to secure loans taken out to buy corporate shares. Then, quite frequently, the raiders gut the company, selling off its assets, and even draining employee pension funds, as well as firing workers. More than once the feds had to bail out pension funds depleted by Romney and his crew.

Second, on his $42 million income in the last two years, he paid an effective income tax of less than 14 percent. His rebuttal is that it would be imprudent for a president to be paying more than he owed. But that overlooks the fact that his company, and he himself, worked in 2008 to keep the low rate on his type of passive income. Bain Capital contributed large amounts to lobby against the bill that would have taken away this favorable tax treatment, and Romney himself stated publicly that he opposed the bill.

Third, he dodges taxes by banking millions in off-shore accounts, letting him further dodge taxes.

Finally, his constant tone-deaf statements show that he truly does not have much concept of how the other 99.9999% live. Acting like a teenage brat, "C'mon, I'll bet you $10,000." My wife has two cadillacs." "I'm not worried about the poor." "I like firing people" -- even taken in the actual context in which he said it, especially now that he's having Donald Trump. Mr. You're Fired, doing robo-calls for him in Michigan. "Let Detroit go bankrupt" -- who cares that millions of people will lose their jobs.

As Paul Krugman said about the "firing" statement:

"But not even that gets at the heart of what is so wrong with Romney's statement. It goes much deeper, to Romney's sense of privilege, and a relationship to the world around him that is alien to most Americans and reinforces everything that is wrong with the 1% in America."

Further, Romney's policies are in perfectly in line with his inane statements. His tax policy alone makes that point -- it will reduce taxes for the riches Americans by $240,000 per year, while raising them for a wide swath of middle income America.

So this is not in any way parallel to the right-wing racist Islamaphobic birthism raised against Obama. It instead goes to the very essence of who Romney is.

kirk spickelmire said...

when I saw this photo I assumed he was getting his shoes shined, and I did see a difference. While Obama was getting his picture taken being good to the little people, not really doing anything for the person. I thought to myself, he's not even elected yet and he's already created more jobs than Obama did in 4 years.

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