The Republican Party’s presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney’s recent remark asserting that the “poor are not my focus”, may have disappointed some viewers but there was nothing surprising about it. Contempt for the poor is not peculiar to Romney, but is present in many mainstream US politicians, which is why Romney’s remark should not be viewed as a faux pas. But it does say a lot about people like him who are seeking their country’s leadership and even more importantly, about what is happening to that country.
It is important here to remind ourselves that Mitt Romney is no ordinary person; his has been a life of perks and privileges. Son of a former governor of Michigan, he may possibly be the richest aspirant ever to the country’s highest office, with personal wealth estimated at over US dollars $250 million. Of course, cushioned with such enormous sums, you don’t have to worry about your next meal, or the next pay cheque; nor fear the banks seizing your house for missing the monthly mortgage.
Romney is known for supreme self-control and being meticulous to a fault, with aides responsible for ensuring that not a hair on his head is out of place. With every move choreographed by ‘handlers’, his remark should not be seen as a slip of the tongue, but as a deliberate message to keepers of the ‘faith’ in the Republican Party, who harbour doubts about Romney’s commitment to the extreme conservative principles now espoused by them. After all, this party has strenuously opposed even minimal opportunities or economic incentives to the poor that could pull them out of their dire straits. The Republicans have also been contemptuous of social security or national health care or any programme that could enable millions — who have lost their jobs and seen their dwellings seized by banks and mortgage houses — to survive. They have gone as far as to accuse President Barack Obama of being a socialist!
It is truly sad that a country based on noble ideals and which prided itself on opening up its borders and proclaiming, ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free’, should now show no remorse or guilt in denying its poor even tiny crumbs essential for dignified living. The Republican Party is a truly strange breed today, a hostage to the extreme right wing religious fanatics who want to turn the country into a Christian state and also to undo notable aspects of the party’s legacy, such as Nixon’s environmental and labour safety laws, Reagan’s elimination of corporate tax loopholes and a score of other achievements in civil rights and good government reforms. It has now come to such a pass, that moderates simply do not stand any chance in the Republican Party.
In fact, both political parties have abandoned the ‘big tent’ approach to become more ideological organisations. But it is not simply the Republicans; the entire country appears to have moved right — in both domestic and foreign policy. No one now talks about ‘compassionate conservatism’; even the pretence of being concerned with the fate of the poor having been eliminated from the rhetoric of politicians. If it was the growing power of the ‘military-industrial complex’ that prompted President Eisenhower to use his farewell address in January 1961 to warn of this development, the country now needs to wake up to the stranglehold of corporations and financial institutions on government. Having become the biggest financiers of politicians, elections are going to be increasingly determined by them and not by the electorate, especially after the 2010 Supreme Court decision permitting them to spend unlimited amounts in favour of candidates who promote their interests. Even George Soros, the famous hedge fund manager, has acknowledged that the concept of freedom in America now finds expression “in the rise of geopolitical realism in foreign policy and laissez-faire in economics”.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2012.
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