Thurston Romney Howell IIIby David Pinar on Sep. 19, 2012, under Pol. & Govt.
I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island on TV and loved the show. Gilligan and the Skipper, the Professor and the bombshell Ginger – they all made me laugh. But it was Thurston Howell the Third and his wife “Lovey” that made me laugh the most. They would make my Republican father and Democrat mom share a laugh over their complete lack of understanding of the lives of “common folks”. Like the episode where Gilligan and the Skipper build a small raft to try to get off the island and get help, and Mr. Howell demands he and Lovey go with them. “Mr. Howell, You don’t know what it’s like out there in the ocean, you may be bitten by a shark!” the Skipper tells him. “A shark bite a Howell, ha ha he wouldn’t dare!” Mr. Howell retorts. “Besides we don’t have room enough for your luggage” the Skipper adds. Mr. Howell responds: “Well that’s different. If I can’t go first class I won’t go at all!”
I also enjoy David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times. I look forward to the Shields and Brooks segment every Friday on the PBS Newshour, where Mr. Books squares off with the liberal columnist Mark Shields. David Brooks is a conservative, but a Northeastern conservative – articulate, thoughtful, knowledgeable and not afraid to be bluntly critical when a Republican goes to far off in the right wing la la land. Northeastern conservatives are fiscal conservatives, but socially moderate and reasonable. Here in Arizona conservatives call people like that “bleeding heart libruls” or, more affectionately, “libtards”. Mr. Brooks wrote an opinion article the other day entitled Thurston Howell Romney, in which he was bluntly critical of comments that Mitt Romney made last May at a $50,000 a plate fundraiser – comments that he thought would never leave the room.
These are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it”.
This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.
Ninety-two percent of Americans believe that hard work is the key to success. But what about the other 8%? I’m inclined to believe many of them think the key to success is to just be smarter that the other guy. To sell investors mortgage backed securities that you assure them are solid, safe investments – while buying derivatives that will make you a pile of money when those mortgages go belly up. To buy companies, load them up with debt and milk their cash reserves dry with “management fees” so that you and your investors make millions in profits as the company goes bankrupt, lays off all it’s workers and closes up. To make sure your income is classified as “capital gains” and taxed at only 15%, instead of income from wages & salaries like “commoners” and taxed at a much higher rate, with Social Security and Medicare taxes to boot. And if that’s still too much taxes to your liking, you hide your money in the Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts. As the wealthy hotel magnet Leona Helmsley once told her hired help: “Only little people pay taxes“. She was later convicted and jailed for income tax evasion.
You see, that’s the real contradiction here – Romney and his fellow Republicans condemn the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes as “leeches and moochers”, feeding off the “Culture of Dependency”. Never mind that those 47% pay plenty in other taxes – sales taxes, utility excise taxes, gasoline taxes, property taxes either directly or though rent that their landlord uses to pay property taxes. How dare they not pay income taxes, they have no skin in the game! But at the same time they think it’s their duty to use every quirk and loophole in the tax code, to use every trick in the book – to not pay income taxes!. Offshore tax havens? That’s our right and our duty to avoid the clutches of the evil big government! Carry forward losses recorded when times are bad, like 2008, to shield your income from taxes when times our good? That’s our God given right! They’ve made figuring out ways to avoid paying taxes on their loot into a competitive sport. But if someone doesn’t pay incomes taxes because they’re living on Social Security and retirement savings that don’t add up enough to meet the federal income tax threshold? Freeloader! Bottom feeder on the ‘Culture of Dependency’! They live by the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.
That’s the hypocrisy of the well off, those who pay $50,000 a plate to listen to a guy who is promising them yet another tax cut – so they won’t have to work so hard to avoid them. As Thurston Howell the Third said: “It is rather difficult being rich. If it wasn’t for the money, I’d rather be poor“.
Then there’s the hypocrisy of politicians like Paul Ryan. He was out on the campaign trail yesterday echoing that ‘Culture of Dependency’ meme. Well, at least he knows what he’s talking about. When his father died when he was only 16, Ryan collected Social Security Survival Benefits until he was 18. He saved them and used the money to pay for part of his college tuition. He paid the rest of it with student loans – federally guaranteed, federally subsidized low interest student loans. And then he’s been on the federal government payroll pretty much since he graduated from college. He knows it’s no ‘Culture of Dependency’, it’s the role of government ensuring that everyone gets a fair chance to work hard, get ahead, and succeed. Paul Ryan just thinks it politically advantageous to repeat the false claim of ‘Culture of Dependency’ to play to the conservative party base who have been told that enough times they believe it. Paul Ryan is a hypocrite, but he’s no dummy – he also probably knows that is was Ronald Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986 and George W Bush’s 2001 & 2003 tax cuts that wiped out the income-tax liability for many Americans. GW Bush sold his tax cuts in part by saying it would remove over 8 million people from the tax roll with his new 10% tax rate and doubling the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000. It was also part of the Welfare reforms in the 1990s – income tax credits for the working poor to be the working poor, not welfare queen poor. But welfare poor or working poor they’re still poor and the people Romney was speaking to at that fundraiser still consider them “the help” and look down on them. So Mitt pitched to his audience, belittling those who don’t pay income taxes as “moochers” and “freeloaders”.
Republicans a quick to accuse Democrats of “class warfare” and “class envy”, resentful of the wealthy. Not at all – I’m loving that well to do person who paid $50,000 for lunch so they could take their video camera into Mitt’s fundraiser to record what he said when he thought only rich folk like him would hear what he really thinks. And I’m loving that the very well to do Mitt Romney is running the most inept campaign challenging an incumbent President since George McGovern in 1972.