NOTE: I am writing this in a "quiet room."
About income inequality, Mitt Romney infamously said, "You know, I think it’s about envy." Envy is wanting something others have that you lack, and I imagine there are a lot of people who envy the access money buys for absurdly rich people like Mitt Romney.
Like access to healthcare. In 1998, Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable, progressive, autoimmune disease that erodes quality of life for many people. She also has a history of breast cancer. Thanks to newer drugs to treat MS, Ann Romney is doing well, having recovered much of the function she had previously lost.
In 2010, the cost just for the drugs used to treat MS were estimated at $30,000 annually. I bet Julie Stachowiak envies Mitt Romney's family:
"The price of MS treatment continues to go up. A typical MS drug that cost $24,000 in 2007, now costs $30,000 for one year of treatment," says Julie Stachowiak, PhD, author of The Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto: Action To Take, Principles To Live By.
"My state has a high-risk pool for people who would not be able to get insurance. It costs me $900 a month and I still pay $100 each month out-of-pocket for my MS treatment,” says Stachowiak, who was diagnosed with MS in 2003.
Alicia suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is uninsured. She has two children (ages 10 & 12) who take care of her at home. She is confined to a wheelchair and can't afford home care.
It is easy for Mitt Romney to talk about repealing Obamacare--he doesn't need it. He has enough money that he never has to worry about preexisting conditions, policy limits, copayments, depth of coverage, or being dropped by his insurer. And I admit to feeling envious.
I have type II diabetes and since Novo Nordisk has not returned my e-mails seeking to replace Paula Deen as their new spokeswoman (I make a mean quinoa), I find myself wishing that, like Mitt Romney's family, preexisting conditions were not something I had to worry about. Romney's sons are older than 26 whereas my oldest is 20, and I envy that Romney does not have to worry about how his children will afford healthcare coverage if Obamacare is repealed, along with its guaranteed coverage under a parent's plan for 26-year-olds.
Mitt Romney said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." Now, "fact-checkers" and his defenders assure me that it is unfair to criticize Romney for the remark because he was referring to insurance corporations that are people and not people that are people. As other Daily Kos diarists have pointed out, however, most of us with preexisting conditions or employer-sponsored healthcare policies are not at liberty to fire insurers who provide services to us. In fact, most Americans (especially those with pre-existing conditions like MS) have no choice but to accept whatever rate increases or copayments the insurer wants to impose because losing coverage would be life-threatening. Some people cannot even leave a job for a better one or start out on a new venture because they cannot afford to change healthcare or risk being without it.
Did you know that Elin Nordegren and Mitt Romney have something in common? Both recently tore down homes estimated at around $12 million dollars to replace them with larger or newer homes. Then there is David Tepper, a billionaire, who last year tore down his $43.5 million Hamptons home reportedly because "he couldn't see the ocean from every room." Do you suppose any of the United States' 643,067 homeless people in 2011 (including more than 67,000 veterans) envy them?
It is easy for people like Mitt Romney, who owns at least four homes valued at at least $20 million, to criticize the stimulus act as wasteful spending, even though it established the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), contributing to a slight decline in homelessness from 2009 to 2011:
The report cites the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, or HPRP, a federal program established with $1.5 billion in funding from the stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009 at the urging of President Barack Obama. In 2010, its first year of operation, the program helped nearly 700,000 at-risk and homeless people, the report said.
On the downside, the report also notes that many families have "doubled up" and that 2011 saw a 22% increase in the proportion of impoverished families who spent at least 50% of their monthly income on housing. My housing costs--including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes--total approximately 50% of my earnings, and I admit that I envy Mitt Romney for not having to commit 50% of his income to home ownership. No wonder he can afford to buy and maintain six horses for his wife!
I also have a bathroom that is falling apart, 14-year-old carpeting, damaged siding, a nonworking outlet, deteriorating Pergo, ceiling stains from repaired roof leaks, and a falling down fence. I would love to have a fraction of the value of the $12 million home Romney tore down to make those repairs. On the other hand, I count myself lucky just to have a home.
Romney, who counts himself among the unemployed, earned $374,327 in speaker fees last year, an amount that despite being 7.5 times the median US income of $49,445 in 2010 was "not very much" according to Romney. (The annual median income in South Carolina, where Romney was speaking from at the time, is $41,709).
Newt Gingrich, also a millionaire, derides the poor and unemployed as lazy and "satisfied" with food stamps over jobs. He said New York City janitors earn an absurd amount, which Markos has informed us is a mere $37,710--or approximately 13 times less than Gingrich's Tiffany credit line.
Last year, 15.1% of Americans lived in poverty, more than at any time since the US Census Bureau began recording poverty levels. The 2010 poverty line for a family of four is $22,314. As these people struggle to feed their children; find themselves unable to afford college, healthcare, and home ownership; and spend every waking moment worrying about how to pay the bills, they likely don't have the time to envy people like Gingrich or Romney. Nevertheless, they have achieved a modicum of fame--as a red-meat applause line for Republican debates. I will take a moment, however, to envy Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on their behalf.
Mitt Romney also joked this year that he is unemployed and needs a job. I am sure that joke was very funny to the 8.5% or more of Americans who also don't have a job but want one. He has opposed extending unemployment benefits for these people. I wonder if, like me, they have Romney envy and wish they had $52 million to fritter away on election bids rather than having to worry their unemployment benefits will be cut or that they will have to suffer the indignity of peeing in a cup every month to collect them.
Today, I listened to Mitt Romney talking about how he met his wife of 43 years, whom he met when he was just 15! He has talked about how wonderful his marriage is and how happy it makes him, yet opposes changing the laws to ensure that every American has an opportunity to share in that wonder. I am sure many Americans unable to marry their chosen partner envy Mitt Romney. No doubt many LGBT kids who remain in the closet for fear of torment should they reveal their sexual orientation envy the 15-year-old Mitt Romney who was able to approach the person who interested him and request a date without being subject to ridicule or assault or worse.
Earlier this month, in New Hampshire, a woman approached Romney about the 8% interest rate on her son's student loans; he suggested her son join the National Guard.
Romney said one idea would be to increase the money available to write off college costs in exchange for joining the National Guard. “My son considered that,” Ms. Brunelle told me later, saying he’d looked at the Marines in particular. But he decided against enlisting because his cousin went to Afghanistan to pay for college, and a year ago Thursday he stepped on an IED, losing a leg, Ms. Brunelle said.
I have no doubt many families whose kids join the service because they cannot afford college and subsequently must endure the horrors of war envy Romney for not even having to break a sweat to send his sons to college. All of Romney's sons went to college, and three earned advanced degrees from Harvard. Do you suppose they worried about student loans?
Now, here is where I don't envy Mitt Romney. Romney recently admitted paying "around 15%" in income taxes largely due to capital gains income; according to Think Progress, annual income tax for the average American in 2007 (the most recent year they could find) was 20.4%.
My income is slightly above average, and I have no opposition to paying 20.4% or even slightly more in income taxes as long as I know that money is spent to fund our schools, police and fire departments, and to help those in need through useful programs like Medicaid, CHIP, and home heating. I do not envy obscenely wealthy people who think even 15% is too much for them to pay and who want capital gains taxed at 0%. Nor do I envy people who see nothing wrong in putting their dog in an "airtight" crate and strapping him to the roof of the family station wagon for a 12-hour ride to Canada. (It's okay if he defecates in terror--you can just hose him off and keep on going.)
Truthfully, I would rather be your average, middle-class American with a heart than a soulless flip-flopping bastard whose wealth has seemingly inoculated him against the hardships and challenges real Americans face. Yet I do envy Romney's wealth--I just think I could use it far more effectively to better the world than he has.