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Posted at 10:44 AM ET, 08/17/2012

Mitt Romney’s entitlement problem

There are reasons candidates make mistakes in campaigns, and they usually have something to do with the candidate’s psychology. The most infamous example of this was Richard Nixon’s authorization of the plumbers’ operation and the whole Watergate scheme. Nixon was paranoid about everybody from Ted Kennedy to his own staff.

But more subtle mistakes are worth analyzing, too. Why in the world, for example, did Mitt Romney bring up his taxes again? And why did he tell us that he has looked at them and never paid less than 13 percent? And why would he proffer that if you add in charitable deductions, he has never paid less than 20 percent?

This seems a dimwitted mistake. First, he raises, but doesn’t dispose of a serious vulnerability; he simply gave the sharks more chum. Second, his self-reported 13 percent tax rate is more than zero but less than many Americans pay and highlights the tax advantages available only to the very select. Finally, what in the world do charitable contributions have to do with it? Should we add those together with our taxes to compute our tax rate? Did he deduct them?

What psychological “tell” might explain this mistake? I think it is an unhealthy sense of entitlement. Romney seems to believe that in certain ways he is better than others. How dare we question his tax rate; he has paid millions and millions of dollars in taxes. He pays more in one year at 13 percent than 99.9 percent of Americans pay in their lifetimes. It’s guys like him who are funding the government, for gosh sakes. And what about all that charity money? Doesn’t that count?

Romney’s entitlement problem has manifested itself at other times as well. A very insightful article by LZ Granderson deconstructs Romney’s standard stump take-down of Barack Obama’s infamous “you didn’t build that” line, which was taken from an Obama riff about how we are all interdependent. Romney says something like: If you are an honors student, a bus driver may have gotten you to school, but you deserve the credit for the good grades.

At first read, this seems reasonable, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets. There is something elitist about his dismissal of the bus driver. In Romney’s world, there are the bus drivers whose value is in serving honor role students. Perhaps this is too harsh, but at best, in Romney’s story, the bus driver seems a forgotten figure. As are the millions of American taxpayers who don’t quite understand why people like Romney pay a lower tax rate than them. Or combine their taxes and charitable contributions as if they are the same. Maybe Romney’s sense of entitlement is so vast that he thinks taxes and charity are one in the same: both his discretionary gifts to mankind, for which we should be thankful.

By  |  10:44 AM ET, 08/17/2012

 
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