By NICK CHILES
Every once in a while, politicians open their mouths and some truth comes out. That’s what happened to Mitt Romney yesterday during an interview on CNN with Soledad O’Brien. Pushing the idea that he is the champion of the American middle class, Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor” because they have a safety net.
Soledad, clearly taken aback by this admission, gave the Republican front runner a chance to fix a statement that to any sane viewer sounded incredibly heartless and insensitive. But the multi-millionaire forged ahead and made it even worse.
“You can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on social security, people who cannot find work, folks who have kids that are getting ready to go to college. That — these are the people who’ve been most badly hurt during the Obama years.”
I’m sure this kind of callousness may play wonderfully for Romney’s base, but it sure scares the hell out of me. I’m curious about who Romney conjures up in his mind when he creates a mental image of “the poor.” So I thought I would help him out.
In the United States, when we’re talking about the poor, we are having a conversation about children. Of the 46.2 million people in the United States currently living in poverty, 35.4 percent of them are children. Among the entire population of children in the U.S., 22 percent of them live in poverty, nearly one of every four. That’s a staggeringly painful number.
So the man who would be president, the rich man who wants to lead us to prosperity, is saying that he is willing to toss aside the needs, the health, the basic well-being of our nation’s next generation, in order to focus on the middle-class. While this may be the most truthful thing he has said in the entire campaign, it is also incredibly illogical. Maybe a better description is stupid. If you are concerned about the future prosperity of the country, if you want to make sure you put us all on a path to stability, is it really wise to turn your back on the children? Not only is it mean, it doesn’t make sense.
There is a direct correlation between childhood poverty and a long list of negative statistics: illiteracy, high school dropouts, unemployment, incarceration. It’s no coincidence that the states with the highest rates of childhood poverty—South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi—also have the highest numbers on all these other measures. When the economy goes bad, the people who are at the bottom suffer the most because they were already living on the margins.
Clearly the Romney campaign has access to all of these statistics. Clearly the Romney campaign must know that anybody concerned about the nation’s future cannot logically claim to not care about the poor.
But unfortunately, there’s one more thing the Romney campaign knows: children can’t vote.
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