Even for a guy with a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth, Mitt Romney has outdone himself. His leaked remarks to a group of donors, in which he dismisses 47% of Americans as moochers, saying, "My job is not to worry about those people", managed to spark outrage across the political spectrum.
Here's why. The multi-millionaire Republican candidate's comments didn't just demonstrate (again) his total cluelessness about the struggles normal people face trying to make a living and raise a family. Nor did it just hurt his election prospects (although it may well have done that too).
Even more damaging, he pulled back the curtain on how things really work. He showed how the rich and powerful in the US see themselves... and the rest of us. And in laying out the ugly status quo quite so plainly, he has showed exactly why America's citizens urgently need to reclaim their democracy.
Makers vs takers
Romney was speaking in May to a room full of wealthy campaign donors who had paid $50,000 apiece to have their egos massaged and their consciences salved at the home of a millionaire hedge fund manager. And he told them what they wanted to hear: they are the Makers, the productive members of society, the ones who create wealth, who make things happen.
The rest, he said, are freeloaders who are “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Only by cutting taxes for the Makers and removing regulations that inhibit them, he says, can the country thrive.
Money = free speech
Many of Romney's statements are factually wrong, of course. But the real reveal here is the dangerous and destructive relationship between money and power in the US.
In the past few decades, more of the nation's income has been going to the top earners and less to everyone else. As that trend accelerates, it's fuelling a feedback loop where the rich and their corporations use their wealth to buy political influence, spending billions on lobbying and campaign contributions to get their taxes lowered and laws changed to allow them to get even richer. Which then lets them buy even more political influence, and so on. And it's paying off big time.
After the disastrous US supreme court ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case demolished most legal limits on what billionaires and Wall Street firms can spend on influencing elections in the United States, the final floodgates opened. Thanks to that decision, which effectively said that corporations have the same free speech rights as people – and that money equals speech – the mad scramble for campaign cash, for both Democrats and Republicans, has taken over completely. So-called “SuperPACs” (Political Action Committees) have already raised more than $300m from a tiny group of super wealthy donors.
This is bad for all of us
This "pay to play" political system not only distorts democracy in America; it reverberates throughout the world as this self-enriching elite dictates US policy on climate change, natural resources, trade, finance, diplomacy, development aid and much more.
Exhibit A? Romney telling his donors in the leaked video that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace." He goes on to say that "we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Certainly, American leadership in the Israel-Palestine conflict has been less than vigorous since the Clinton administration. But for a man who stands a good chance of becoming US president to say he'd basically ignore one of the most explosive hot spots in the world – that he'd do nothing to try and solve one of the world's most enduring, tragic problems – is so cynical it makes your teeth hurt.
We need elections, not auctions
The gift that Mitt Romney has given us is that he has stripped away any pretence that the game is fair.
We need our democracy back – and that means rolling back the power of money with people power now. Already, the people are pushing back. And that's where you come in. Share this story with everyone you know – and if you live in the United States or are a US citizen, sign up below.
Sources: Mother Jones, Mediaite, Washington Post, Congressional Budget Office, International Business Times, Huffington Post, Politico, Vanity Fair