The moocher class

In my column this week, I challenged us all to look at how often the more prosperous among us talk with disdain about the less affluent.

Like so many others, I was disturbed by what GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said during a private fundraising event in which he characterized 47 percent of Americans as moochers. Romney didn’t use the word moocher, but as Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romney said 47 percent of the public “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

And if that weren’t bad enough, he said: “These are people who pay no income tax…. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Exclusive clips of the video were published online by Mother Jones magazine. Here’s the full clip. You should watch it.

And for the folks who say Romney was quoted out of context, Mother Jones has the entire 49-minute video. “The complete video demonstrates that Romney was not snippetized and that he was captured raw and uncut,” wrote David Corn, who broke the story with the video and is Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief.

There was so much that was disturbing about what Romney said. But let’s start with the facts. The Washington Post created a reality check graphic that highlights the candidate’s misconceptions.

Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column for The Post, said it’s true that last year about 46 percent of American households paid no income taxes. “But this is one of these ‘facts’ that is not very informative,” he wrote recently. “ ‘Income taxes’ are just one type of tax that people pay, and for most working Americans — about three-quarters — payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare far exceed what they pay in income taxes.”

More specifically, noted by Ezra Klein in The Post’s Wonk Blog, the majority of Americans who paid no federal income taxes “have jobs, and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly.”

As often happens with these issues, the opinion writers are taking sides. Here’s a roundup of what the pundits have said about Romney’s candid camera moment:

-- From The Washington Post’s editorial board: “Mr. Romney’s condescension toward half the country oddly mirrors the liberal disparagement of working-class Republicans that conservatives have long (and rightly) found offensive. The liberal misconception has been that anyone in the 47 percent who votes Republican is acting against economic self-interest and therefore must be stupid or duped by political ads — as if such voters cannot have principles on abortion, say, or economics that trump self-interest, even if you accept the Democratic definition of the latter.”

-- The Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote: “What the Republican presidential nominee said is reprehensible and unbecoming a man who claims to want to be president of all Americans.”

-- New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote: “Presidential campaigns wallow so tediously in pseudo-events and manufactured outrage that our senses can be numbed to the appearance of something genuinely momentous. Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded comments at a fund-raiser are such an event — they reveal something vital about Romney, and they disqualify his claim to the presidency… The video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party. He believes that market incomes in the United States are a perfect reflection of merit.”

Romney has his defenders.

-- Jonah Goldberg, writing for the National Review, said: “Some on the left are trying to make it sound like Romney says he won’t concern himself with the ‘47 percent’ if he’s president. That’s not what he’s saying in the video. What he’s saying in the video is that as a strategic matter he can’t concern himself with the people locked into voting against him.”

-- Michael Walsh, also writing for the National Review, said: “This is Mitt’s time, this is his moment…. And that means going all in…. Sure, Mitt might have phrased things more elegantly — and certainly would have had he known there was a rat in the audience….. What he ought to do is step up and embrace the basic division in our nation, including the fact that nearly half the country pays no income taxes. Acknowledge it — and then explain why, morally, this is not a good thing.”

How about hearing from one of the folks Romney calls irresponsible who responded to my column.

“I am part of the working, worrying middle class,” John from Lothian, Md., wrote me. “ I am an early retired electrician. For 40-plus years I worked my tail off sometimes (too many times) at minimum wage. My wife and I managed to raise three kids without them becoming involved in all the nasty things that to frequently distract them growing into ‘responsible’ adults. Thank you for realizing and recognizing that there are those of us out here that have worked hard all their lives and have done the best they could and still find themselves behind.”

I want to hear from you. This week’s Color of Money Question: What do you think of Romney’s comments? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “The Mooching Class” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Celebrity Cash

Michael Winans, who is related to the famed Winans gospel singing family, has been charged in federal court with operating an $8 million Ponzi scheme that promised investors huge returns for investing in phony Saudi Arabian crude oil bonds, reports The Detroit Free Press.

Winans is accused of defrauding more than 1,000 investors of $1,000 to $7,000. An attorney representing Winans said his client plans to plead guilty.

The report states that no members of the Winans singing family took part in the scheme but that Winans preyed on church members.

“Poor Little Rich Me” responses

For last week’s Color of Money question, I asked: “What do you think of politicians using stories about their impoverished ancestors or their own days of voluntary poverty to connect to voters?”

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen criticized the practice.

Here’s what some of you had to say:

“I think that it is dangerous for anyone to romanticize poverty,” wrote C. Brewer of Laurel, Md. “There is nothing romantic about poverty. Poverty kills. The romanticizing of poverty can distract our consciences just long enough in order that we do not have to do anything to help poor people.”

Jennifer Ward of Portland, Ore., said politicians would never be able to relate to being impoverished.

“I remember a time in my life where I only had $60 in my bank account,” she wrote. “I remember the bills stacking up that month and cried on the phone to the doctor’s office that I couldn’t pay them any money. I was on the verge of cashing in all my coin change, but I wanted to save it for an emergency. When I needed food, I was torn between buying food for my husband and I at two stores, one of which only took debit cards. I had to choose between using the little cash I had (at the discount store) and putting more money on my credit card. I have never been so stressed about money in my entire life. Thankfully, now, things are much better. Politicians will never feel the constant stress and anxiety that seeps into your bones, just to live each day.”

“It’s really elementary; nobody truly understands what another person faces unless he walks in the other person’s shoes,” wrote Mary O’Connor of Suffern, N.Y. People who live in dire circumstances, without high school diplomas or specific skills probably can’t relate to either Michelle Obama or Ann Romney.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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