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Quite a character

relatability.JPGThere’s having a relatability problem, and there’s having a relatability problem. And then there’s Mitt Romney’s  relatability problem.

The trouble with seeing everything in black and white is that you always miss the grey. And if ever there was a person who views the world in black and white, it’s Mitt Romney. It is this singularity of vision that served him so well in his professional life. Profit and loss, win or lose. These are absolutes that he can grasp, analyze, and conquer.

But people are not numbers. Our actions, ideas, and opinions can be quantified, for sure, but there is always something lost in the process. Some will say it is our humanity, our very essence of being, that is lost, but I think it’s something even more basic we lose when we try to quantify people: we lose our character.

I mention this not because I think Mitt Romney lacks character, but because he fails to understands ours. In reducing us all to a simple paradigm, he instantaneously created a chasm where one previously did not exist. The gap between those who pay taxes and those who do not does not exist in the minds of most people. Who thinks that way? More importantly, why would you think that way?

But to Romney’s way of thinking, it all makes sense. There are those who create, and those who consume. That’s it. There are no solders serving in war zones, retired seniors, working parents, students, or disabled children who have perfectly legitimate reasons to not be paying income tax. These are freeloaders. Parasites. The problem.

At the fundraiser, Mitt Romney is overheard telling his millionaire donors what he really believes: half of America is not worth his time. And that would be a perfectly acceptable answer for a billionaire CEO. But the problem with being President of the United States is that you are the leader for everyone, not just the half you like, the half you identify with, or the half you understand. The President needs to learn to bridge the divides of society, not create new ones.

To blame Romney for his lack of understanding is fruitless, though oddly satisfying. How can we expect a man who has lived a life of absolute privilege and leisure to understand the world normal people navigate on a daily basis? One gets the sense that Romney has tried to understand us, but he just went about it wrong way. He has read report after report, analyzes statistic after statistic, trying to get a handle on what Americans need and want from their President, instead of being one of us. Instead of talking with us, he has tried to talk at us.

And so, to the end, it appears that Mitt Romney’s relateability problem really seems to be a character problem as well. Not his character, exactly, but that he doesn’t seem to understand America’s character.  The collective, intrinsic, humanity that makes all of us proud to be Americans seem to be lost on Mr. Romney.

It is this collective character that allows us to give tax breaks to those who need them, like the more than 60% of families who don't owe federal income taxes because they're just not making enough income to have to pay more. Or the Nearly half, of American families end up not paying federal income taxes because they're seniors who get elderly tax benefits. These are not the problem – these are the people.

If Mr. Romney wants to make individual effective tax rate our badge of patriotism and productively, then I’m all for it. After all, just about everyone pays taxes. Even people who don't make enough money to pay taxes on their income still pay payroll taxes, property taxes, and sales tax on everyday things.

Unfortunately for Mr. Romney, in the last two years, he paid an average tax rate of 14% on the money he's made off of the wealth he already has, meaning he pays a lower tax rate than a typical family making a middle-class income.  And Congressman Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running make, has proposed a plan that would've let Mitt Romney pay less than 1% in income taxes.

In a country where 55,000 millionaires and billionaires are paying lower taxes than millions of middle-class Americans, and 1,500 millionaires managed to pay no federal income taxes on their millions in 2009, it seems strange that Mr. Romney would take such a strident stand and label these folks as being part of the problem.

In fairness to Mr. Romney, he made these remarks at a closed fundraiser, in response to questions from the audience. These remarks were not scripted and were not intended for general consumption. But I just keep going back to the quote from John Wooden which goes, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Upon further reflection, it becomes clear that perhaps we do have a character problem after all. But I do not think this one lies with the American people.