Mitt Romney Is Just Like You. He Is Forbidden to Sleep Under Bridges

Currently, about five unemployed people are looking for work for each job opening in the U.S. That basically means that for every job that gets filled, there are four people who didn’t get the job no matter how hard they tried, no matter how polished their resume, no matter how much they networked. Whatever those four people might have done to get the job simply didn’t matter because there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. Knowing that helps to explain why Mitt Romney got so much grief last week when he seemed to joke about unemployment.

You may recall that Romney was campaigning in a coffee shop in Florida. After listening to some unemployed citizens describe the challenges they faced looking for work, Romney brightly offered up that he, too, was unemployed. Romney’s critics suggested it was a grossly insensitive remark to make face-to-face with those who were struggling. Coming as it did, from a man whose net worth is about $200 million. It seems possible that Romney might not be feeling the same pain as those who may lose their health insurance, their home, their life savings, and the chance for their kids to go to college if he doesn’t get a job soon. It was not a particularly effective “I feel your pain” moment for Mr. Romney. In fact, it seemed just short of suggesting to those without bread that maybe they should just eat cake.

But it could have been an even worse moment for the former Governor if he had reminded those struggling unemployed supporters of his of the remarks he made in an editorial in USA Today about six months ago: “The indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs.” After all, what the heck were those unemployed people doing lolling about in a coffee shop talking to Mitt Romney when they could have been out looking for work?

For those unemployed people Romney was speaking to in Florida, the maximum amount of unemployment insurance is $275 a week. That may not be much real help to someone who is sitting on $200 million in net worth. But it helps a little to keep food on the table and the wolf from the door for people like Tom Yarranton.

Tom Yarranton, 55, was one of the people in that coffee shop that morning. After 31 years as an internal auditor at a manufacturing company, Yarranton lost his job in March 2010.

Romney’s op-ed suggests that he believes that people like Tom, who has worked his entire adult life, is prone to get a bit lazy and become dissuaded from making the best possible effort to find a job if he receives the princely sum of $275 a week. I suspect Yarranton would disagree.

The way people like Romney and the right wing in general seem to think about life is the mirror image of the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Rich Boy, which begins: ”Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”

The right-wing version of this tale goes along the lines of “Let me tell you about the poor and the middle class. They are different from you and me. They tend to be lazy and tend to whine. The working class doesn’t really work. They have no ambition or self-respect. And they are always wanting handouts.”

Those same right-wing types then tend to go on about “American Exceptionalism.” Apparently, what they mean by that is that America is great — except for most of the people in it.

In 1894, the right wing’s brand of economic liberty was in full flower. France would not begin its system of unemployment insurance until 1905. Anatole France then observed: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Or as Mr. Romney might see it today: “Please, vote for me because I am just like you. I, too, am forbidden to sleep under bridges.”

Good luck getting that big job you want, sir.