Mitt Romney found himself in a little hot water again on Wednesday as the result of something he said and the determination of political adversaries — on the left and right — to take his words out of context and to exploit them for their own advantage.
What he said Wednesday morning on CNN was, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
Members of the middle class might take modest solace in those remarks, and the wealthy would be wise to hold their tongues. Yet Mr. Romney was attacked both by Newt Gingrich and a spokesman for President Barack Obama. The Obama spokesman depicted Mr. Romney as uncaring with the tweeted comment, “So much for ‘we’re all in this together.’” Mr. Gingrich announced he was “fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other.”
In context, what Mr. Romney said wasn’t particularly controversial. In saying he wasn’t concerned about the poor, he explained that it is because they have a safety net. What’s more, he said he would make repairs if they are necessary. That ought to be at least somewhat reassuring.
Trouble is, the safety net is shredded, and there’s little indication he’s used much of his influence or considerable wealth mending it. What’s more, congressional Republicans have shown more interest in protecting the wealthy than in helping the poor. It’s as if Mr. Romney doesn’t know that the ranks of Americans in poverty increased by some 2 million last year and that their plight — as well as that of the middle class he was appealing to — is worsening.
We’ll credit Mr. Romney for meaning well. Still, given some of his campaign’s excesses, he can’t be surprised that he was attacked from both sides.
What Mr. Gingrich calls “carpet-bombing” with negative ads is one example. Another involved Mr. Romney’s campaign’s willingness in November to denounce something President Obama said knowing that the president was actually quoting U.S. Sen. John McCain.
What Mr. Obama said then was, “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’” The Romney campaign was content to attribute Sen. McCain’s phrase to the president, which was simply, and inexcusably, deceitful. Mr. Romney’s defense of it was disappointing.
Our next president might be the best person for the job. Or he might simply be best at smearing opponents and wiggling out of dicey situations. Both the president and Mr. Romney have demonstrated those skills.