'I'm not concerned with the very poor.'

Mitt Romney's latest fit of cluelessness:

A few points.First, what makes this sound so bad is not just the sentence I quote in the title of this post. It's the combination of this sentence and the one before it. "By the way, I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned with the very poor." The suggestion, surely unintended, is that the poor are not really Americans -- or are, at any rate, less American. They are exotic creatures, for whom real Americans must make some minimal provision -- hence the next sentences: "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."Second, Romney seems to think that the problem of unemployment and the problem of poverty are separate ones: "My campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. You can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich -- that's not my focus. You can focus on the very poor -- that's not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans: retirees living on social security, people who can't find work, folks that have kids that are getting ready to go to college." The suggestion, surely unintended, is that the very poor are not people who can't find work, but are people who are unwilling or unfit to work. Romney is also implying that when middle-income Americans lose their jobs, they remain middle-income instead of becoming poor. Of course he knows this isn't necessarily the way it works, but he can speak this way because he himself is not "middle-income": he comes from a class in which people can lose their income and remain quite comfortable because of their wealth. Most middle-income people don't have a lot of wealth; they run out of money not long after their paychecks stop arriving. And then they're poor, even very poor. (Romney could have saved himself some trouble by using the word "middle-class" instead of "middle-income," but conservatives aren't supposed to believe in class.)Third, the conservative response to Romney's gaffe is telling. Rush Limbaugh doesn't fault him for saying he's not concerned with the very poor. (Who hasn't lapsed into imprudent candor from time to time?) No, Limbaugh's upset because Romney said he'd fix the safety net if it needed fixing, when he should have said he'd tear it up and get the government out of the way so the poor could find jobs. But Romney's conservative critics shouldn't worry too much. After all, Romney had nice things to say about Paul Ryan's budget plan, which would shrink the safety net considerably. "If it needs repair, I'll fix it" is a wonderful Romneyism. The unabridged version of this statement is: "If it needs repair -- and I'm not saying it does -- I'll fix it."Finally and most obviously, very poor Americans don't vote as much as middle-income Americans.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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