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“It’s All About Bucks,The Rest is Conversation”: Mitt Romney And ‘Envy’ Versus ‘Greed’

The 2012 presidential race is shaping up as a battle not just between candidates, but over which of the Seven Deadly Sins is most offensive to voters.

On the one side, we have  envy, which GOP front-runner former Gov. Mitt Romney identified as a distasteful by-product  of income inequality—or, Republicans argue, the “class warfare” provoked by  Democrats. The United States “already has a leader who divides us by the  bitter politics of envy,” Romney said after winning the New Hampshire primary.  The line was obviously meant to undermine Obama’s 2008 pledge to bring people  together, as well as to cast restless middle-class and poor people as  possessing un-mannerly envy.

On the other side, however, we have greed, and that is a  Deadly Sin  that may haunt the eventual Republican nominee. The Occupy Wall  Street  movement may be dismissed (unfairly) by some as a bunch of   Starbucks-sucking, whiny kids who won’t look for jobs, but it is  undeniably  true that a broad swath of Americans is getting more than a  little resentful at  the fact that the very wealthy have come through  the recession quite  profitably, while the low-and-middle income workers  are still struggling. Many  of those who managed to keep their jobs are  working at lower pay and reduced  benefits, further aggravating the  situation.

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll,  about two-thirds of the public now believes there are strong  conflicts  between the rich and poor. The percentage has grown by 19 points  since  2009, suggesting that voters are growing far more aware of the economic   division as the election approaches. The Pew report notes, even more  notably:

…in the public’s evaluations of divisions within  American society,  conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other  potential  sources of group tension — between immigrants and the native born;   between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more  survey  respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants  and the native  born than said the same about the rich and the poor.

How much political capital can a candidate gain by  dismissing the  unemployed malcontents as immorally envious? It’s a risk,  especially  this year.

We all feel envious sometimes, and most of us are not  proud of it  (which is a good thing, since pride is another one of the Seven  Deadly  Sins). But that sort of envy comes from feeling ungraciously jealous  when  a friend gets a promotion or a new car or a charming boyfriend.  Feeling  resentful of Wall Street investors and bankers who made  terrible economic  decisions that affected the entire national  economy—then continued to be  extremely well compensated despite the  failures—is not jealousy. It’s a  reaction to what many Americans see as  a basic question of fairness.

Americans are aspirational; this is why even those who  will never in  their lives amass $1 million still oppose the estate tax. And  there is a  strong sense in this country, among liberals and conservatives  alike,  that enterprise and creativity should be rewarded, financially and   otherwise. What gets missed in the silly verbal jousting, in which  President  Obama has been declared a “socialist” and enemy of free  enterprise, is that  Wall Street itself wasn’t willing to submit to the  uncertainty of capitalism. They  wanted to privatize the profits. But  they wanted to socialize the risk. And it  was 401K holders and  middle-class workers who bore the brunt of that bad risk.

There was a time when Americans could chuckle  good-naturedly at the line in the movie Wall Street  that “Greed is good,”  and even agree with it, somewhat. But that was  when envy was about who had the  bigger car. The enviers now are the  ones who have no health insurance and are  losing their houses to  foreclosure. And they vote.

January 13, 2012 - Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] “It’s All About Bucks,The Rest is Conversation”: Mitt Romney And ‘Envy&#8217… ( […]


    Pingback by “Does ‘Heartless’ Mitt Romney Favor Income Inequality” | GoodOleWoody's Blog | January 16, 2012 | Reply

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