Mitt Romney's Heart—Missing Or Mythical?

Ann Romney assures us that Mitt has a heart, and that he and she are very empathetic to those millions of Americans with whom they have so little in common that the 47% (or whatever larger percentage of Americans you want to use that are much poorer than the Romneys) might as well be from another country. Indeed, Romney has suggested that very poor Americans are not really citizens.
When you're running for president, and the main advocate who will stand up for the idea you're a kindhearted, instead of a ruthlessly cruel, rich person, is your wife, you're in trouble.

Republicans realized months ago, after a flood of confessions had escaped Willard's Scroogey lips: "I like being able to fire people", "Corporations are people too", "I'm not concerned about the very poor"—that the GOP 2012 candidate needed some image-softening of his Montgomery Burns on steroids main impression.

Looking around for somebody, anybody, who could actually say, with a straight face mind you, that Mitt Romney isn't just the kind of person who straps sick dogs to car roofs, the only one they could locate (and not have to bribe too much) was Ann Romney. Romney's wife always seems to realize that anything she says in public about her husband is a sales pitch she has to make for Mitt Romney, Inc, (it's a person too, you know), a company at which Ann was worked all her adult life.

Asked recently, once again, whether her tin husband had ever been given a testimonial heart by some Wizard of Odd (operating out of Salt Lake City of course), Ann Romney flashed her 1% let-them-eat-cake indignation and explained for the poor, simple, voters:
"For people to think that we don't have empathy just because we're not suffering like they're suffering is—is ridiculous.  It’s—it’s ridiculous to think that you can’t have empathy for somebody that’s struggling."
As often happens with these matters, the perception of the limits of the ridiculous rests, in this case, on a misunderstanding of vocabulary. This word empathy is one of the most abused words in the much-abused English lexicon. It is in fact a technical word, first used in English in the early 20th century to translate a German word, EinfĂĽhlung—"feeling into [something or somebody]", employed in the philosophical study of aesthetics.

Without sinking this political discussion into aesthetic philosophy (which would actually be an ascent into finer places), I will just say that the basic idea of empathy is that of projecting a feeling born out of one's own experience onto an object, whose own actual feelings may not in fact match one's projections. In other words, that one has felt pain in some general sense in the past, may give one the impression he can therefore feel the specific pain of one who is suffering the challenges of poverty, for example, but only as one's life experience comes closer to that of the object, is the empathetic sense likely to produce an accurate projection—the ability to truly place oneself into the position and suffering of another.

Mitt and Ann Romney have never struggled financially in their lives. Is it really so ridiculous to think they might have an empathy deficit regarding the suffering of poor people? Given the scientific research that makes a case that rich people don't have as much empathy for others as non-rich people, and given Mitt's record of admitting that poor people don't matter to him, along with his record of brutalizing people he doesn't count as one of his tribe, it is Ann's complaints about the criticism aimed at her husband that sound ridiculous.

When we look at the Romney campaign, on balance, in 2012, it is clear Mitt made a certain calculation early on and decided to stick to it. In fact, he named his book after that strategy: No Apology.

Mitt has owned every seeming gaffe he has made, never really apologizing for anything except his lack of elegance in stating something he nevertheless believed. In fact, Romney has yet to really utter a gaffe—like the absurdly stupid things tumbling out of the mouth of Herman Cain. Romney's fault has been in being brutally honest about what he really thinks. His lack of "elegance", as he calls it, was Romney's possession of a misplaced confidence in the notion that if you just tell people you despise them and their shortcomings, chiefly that of being poorer people than yourself, you'll get points with voters for being forthright.

Having allowed this, the real neutralizer to that supposed political virtue, in Romney's case, is his total willingness to affirm completely contradictory positions, from one day to the next, reacting, as David Corn put it on Face the Nation Sunday, like a rudderless ship being tossed to and fro by every wave of controversy generated by Romney's revealing comments about himself.

For example, here is Mitt Romney explaining to rich donors in Boca Raton just exactly who he counts as important enough to pay attention to:
"Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So, our message of low taxes doesn't, my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
And here is Mitt Romney, being even more revealing about who he thinks is a real American:
"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it."
And here is Mitt Romney, trying to dig himself out of the deep hole he dug for himself with all that:
"[M]y campaign is about the 100% in America. And I'm concerned about them. I'm concerned about the fact that over the past four years, life has become harder for Americans. More people have fallen into poverty...[T]his is a campaign about helping people who need help [especially Mitt Romney]. And right now, the people who are poor in this country need help getting out of poverty."
So, poor people need help getting out of poverty—BUT Mitt Romney doesn't care about them because they have a safety net. See? It doesn't add up, like so much of Romney's weird math.

And let's talk for a moment about Romney's claim he'll "fix" the safety net.

Right, he'll "fix it". That's because Romney is supposedly Mr. Fix-it. Of course, his utter inability or unwillingness to fix his own disaster of a political campaign belies that claim, but what many people at the time took to be a softening of the barbaric "I'm not concerned about the very poor" bit—that Romney promised to fix any problems with the safety net, ignored a basic, inelegant, fact of conservatism.

Conservatives, the banally evil crew in 2012 anyway, think fixing the safety net, which they call "reforming" it, is to throw as many people as they can off the rolls of welfare—even in a continuingly difficult economic situation (for the poor especially).

And note that that Romney is explicit: he cares about Americans, just not about "the very poor".

At Boca Raton, Romney expanded on this, pointing out that, in addition to the very poor, he didn't consider it his job to give a rat's ass about the 47% of all Americans who don't pay income taxes. This was a really peculiar argument—Mitt has a lot of those—since Romney was saying that the problem with those 47%, in addition to the fact, he alleged, that they were morally deficient (not taking responsibility for themselves), was that they were beyond the appeal he and other Republicans were making about reducing the amount of federal income taxes people were paying.

So, the fact the 47% had arrived in the very promised land every rich person also aspires to—paying little or no federal incomes tax—was what Romney claimed made these Americans not worth his time to worry about and also defective Americans. Nope, it makes no sense, unless you look at it from Mitt's point of view, which is what good are people if they can't do something for Mitt. As many Republicans have pointed out, Romney seemed to have forgotten a lot of GOP supporters were lodging (irresponsibly it seems) in that 47% demographic.

Fortunately, you don't have to be cute and cuddly to get elected president. Richard Nixon won twice after all. And the thing is, Romney is running against a guy who himself is obviously a little distant personally—just compare Obama to Joe Biden's sometimes bumbling but usually likable gregariousness with crowds. But, somewhere in the emotional calculation voters make, people need to feel that, even if a president will not do what they want him to, he has an ability to understand something of what they're going through.

And more and more people are deciding that Mitt Romney just doesn't have the heart to demonstrate that is the case. Instead, frankly my dear, Mitt just doesn't seem to give a damn.