Fallout from 'free-loading' remarks continues to dog Romney campaign


MITT ROMNEY’S allies have labelled his remarks about free-loading Americans who don’t pay federal income tax “inarticulate,” “incompetent,” and “arrogant and stupid”.

The Romney campaign tried for a third consecutive day yesterday to stem the damage from the four-month-old video of the Republican candidate speaking privately to a clutch of millionaires, as Republican Congressional candidates distanced themselves from him and President Barack Obama offered thoughtful criticism on late night television. With less than seven weeks to go before the election, Mr Obama has extended his lead in opinion polls.

“It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one,” the conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, who was Ronald Reagan’s speech-writer, said in a post on the Wall Street Journal’s website. “An intervention is in order. ‘Mitt, this isn’t working’.”

In its lead editorial yesterday, the Murdoch-owned Journal concluded that if Mr Romney cannot “give a better speech on taxes and dependency than he delivered at that fundraiser . . . he’ll lose, and he’ll deserve to”.

Bill Kristol, another influential conservative commentator, wrote in the Weekly Standard that Mr Romney’s remarks were “arrogant and stupid”. He noted that many of the nearly 47 per cent of Americans who do not pay federal income tax are Romney supporters, including the military and old-age pensioners.

Mr Kristol said: “Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.”

Scott Brown, the Republican who delivered a severe blow to the Obama presidency by winning the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in January 2010, faces a difficult battle for re-election in November. Mr Brown shares some of Mr Romney’s key advisers, including Eric Fehrnstrom of etch-a-sketch fame.

“That’s not the way I view the world,” Mr Brown said, referring to the Romney video. “As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in.” Criticism from Mr Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, was perhaps the most painful. “He was obviously inarticulate in making this point,” Mr Ryan told a Nevada radio station. Asked if Mr Romney now regrets his derogatory comments about 47 per cent of the US population, Mr Ryan replied, “That’s for sure.”

In an interview with a Colorado television station, Ann Romney claimed her husband’s remarks were “taken out of context”. The campaign reportedly uploaded her interview to YouTube under the title “Ann Romney to FOX31: Mitt Doesn’t Disdain the Poor” then quickly removed it.

The fallout from the video looks unlikely to fade away. It has generated more remarks on Facebook than Mr Romney’s convention speech, according to CNN. The Obama campaign has spliced excerpts into a television advertisement for swing states.

Mr Romney shows no contrition. “Under President Obama, we have a stagnant economy that fosters government dependency,” he wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today newspaper. “My policies will create a growing economy that fosters upward mobility” by favouring “private investment and personal freedom”, he added.

It may be more than a coincidence that Obama supporters kept the Romney video under wraps until the last stretch of the campaign. Likewise, the conservative Drudge Report website appears to have held back the 1998 video of then Illinois state senator Barack Obama speaking during a conference at Loyola University of “redistribution”.

The Romney campaign yesterday sent out a link to the Obama video, in which the president said, 14 years ago: “I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot.” Mr Romney described the Obama video as “a tape that just came out today”.

He said he disagreed with the president because “a society based upon a government-centred nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America . . . We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution”.

The New York Times accused Mr Romney of doing exactly what he’s accused Mr Obama of doing: waging class warfare.

With “bone-chilling cynicism and a revolting smugness” Mr Romney “has been trying to incite the anger of a small slice of the richest Americans . . . against the working poor, older Americans, the disabled workers and veterans, and even a significant chunk of middle-class Americans,” the newspaper’s editorial said.

Mr Obama hinted at the same thing, in a more subtle way, on the David Letterman show on Tuesday night: “One of the things I learned as president is you represent the entire country. If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone,” he said, indirectly replying to Mr Romney’s statement that “My job is not to worry about those people” because “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mr Obama added: “What people want to know though is you’re not writing off a big chunk of the country.

“One thing I’ve never tried to do . . . is suggest that because someone doesn’t agree with me that they’re victims or they’re unpatriotic.”

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published yesterday, Mr Obama received his highest job approval rating since last March, at 50 per cent. Likely voters favoured the incumbent president, 50 per cent to 45 per cent for Mr Romney. Perhaps most important for Mr Obama, 42 per cent of those surveyed said the economy will improve over the next 12 months, the highest percentage in nearly three years.

‘Forbes’ rich list: Gates still on top

THE NET worth of the richest Americans grew by 13 per cent in the past year to $1.7 trillion, according to Forbes magazine, and a familiar cast of characters has once again populated the top of the magazine’s annual list of the US uber-elite. It includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison and the Koch brothers.

The average net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans rose to a record $4.2 billion, the magazine said yesterday. Collectively, this group’s net worth is the equivalent of one-eighth of the entire US economy, which stood at $13.56 billion in real terms, according to latest government data.

However, the 13 per cent growth in the wealth of the richest Americans far outpaced that of the economy overall, widening the chasm between rich and poor.

Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, topped the list for the 19th year in a row with $66 billion, up $7 billion from a year earlier.

Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of insurance conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, stood second with $46 billion, followed by Larry Ellison, head of software maker Oracle, with $41 billion; and the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who run the energy and chemicals conglomerate that bears their name, Koch Industries, were tied for fourth with $31 billion.

The ranks of the top five were unchanged from a year earlier. The other five in the top 10 are: Christy Walton and family, $27.9 billion; Jim Walton, $26.8 billion; Alice Walton, $26.3 billion; S. Robson Walton, $26.1 billion, and Michael Bloomberg, $25 billion.

Two notable names dropped from the top 10, however.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, also active in conservative political causes, fell to the 12th spot from number eight last year, and financier George Soros dropped five spots to number 15 from the number seven position one year ago. – (Reuters)