Mitt Romney had a remarkable exchange on NBC this morning that may not be as attention-grabbing about his “fire people” gaffe — but may actually be just as revealing and significant. And I hope it gets some attention.
In it, Romney suggested that concerns about Wall Street conduct and inequality are driven by “envy,” and even said we needn’t have a public debate about inequitable wealth distribution in this country.
Oh, sure, Romney has said before that Obama’s populist rhetoric is about the politics of envy. But in this particular case, Romney was pressed specifically — twice — on the question of whether any concerns about Wall Street, inequality, and economic unfairness are legitimate and are about something more than “envy.” His answer:
Here’s the exchange:
QUESTIONER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.
QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?
ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.
Romney was twice given a chance to nod in the direction of saying that concerns about these problems have at least some legitimacy to them, that they are about something more than mere envy or class warfare, and that they are deserving of a public debate. And this is the answer he gave.
At a time when polls show rising public anxiety about these problems and what they mean for the country’s future — and at a time when Dems are preparing to run a campaign focused on economic unfairness and lack of Wall Street accountability while painting Romney as the candidate of the one percent — this seems like a pretty revealing and important moment.