In a postmortem of his campaign, Mitt Romney blamed his loss on President Obama’s "gifts" to key voting groups, thereby demonstrating, one last time, how he does not understand the country he hoped to lead. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan's poor showing in his own hometown indicates how out of touch he is with the community he claimed to know so well.
Maybe that lack of perception is one reason why these two aspirants for the highest offices in the land fell short of their goal.
As many pundits have noted, Romney's characterization of government programs as gifts was an echo of his earlier disparaging remarks about the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes. On both occasions, he was speaking privately with a bunch of fat-cat contributors and reinforcing their demeaning stereotypes of less fortunate Americans. It seems that Romney cannot help but be himself when he is around rich people.
The so-called gifts Obama gave included partial forgiveness of student loans, a provision of Obamacare allowing young people to stay on their parents' healthcare plans to age 26, suspension of deportations for immigrant children who have grown up in the United States and healthcare for people who otherwise do not have it or cannot afford it.
What Romney calls gifts, others call lending a hand -- no different than helping people hit by a hurricane. They are programs aimed at providing opportunities for people struggling to get a start in life or rise up from chronic poverty. They are a means to end dependency and create more productive citizens. Other Republicans apparently understand this. As Los Angeles Times reporter Morgan Little described in a Sunday article, several prominent GOP leaders have taken hard shots at Romney’s elitism in recent days.
"I think it's nuts," Newt Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week." "I mean, first of all, it's insulting. The job of a political leader, in part, is to understand the people. If we can't offer a better future that is believable to more people, we're not going to win."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been openly critical since the day Romney made his loser's remarks.
"We as a Republican Party have to campaign for every single vote," Jindal said. "If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don't start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought."
Romney may now retire to the comfort of the country club and his several spacious homes, but his former running mate still has a political career to protect. Ryan is stuck trying to explain how he lost the vote in his own hometown. All along the campaign trail in the cozy communities of Iowa, Ohio, Florida and elsewhere, Ryan told audiences he identified with them because he is just a guy from a small town too. Glossing over the fact he has spent almost his entire adult life climbing the political ladder in Washington, Ryan claimed the people of Janesville, Wis., taught him what America is all about.
Well, the voters of Janesville favored the Obama/Biden ticket by a 25% margin over Romney and Ryan. Ryan was also on the ballot running for reelection to Congress and, though he won his district, the good folks in Janesville preferred his opponent by a 10-point margin.
"When you join a national ticket for a party, you become more seen as a Republican guy than necessarily a Janesville guy," Ryan said in an interview on WCLO, Janesville's radio station. "So I think my image, or the thought people had in their minds of me once I joined the Republican ticket, was more 'Paul Ryan, Republican,' than 'Paul Ryan, Janesville guy.'"
Ryan's analysis hits closer to the truth than Romney's. Voters in Janesville and all around the country came to see Romney and Ryan as a certain kind of Republican -- the kind that interprets a helping hand as a gift for freeloaders -- and a majority decided they did not like what they saw.