the national interest

Why Do People ‘Envy’ Romney But Not Buffett?

The crowd was not booing Mitt Romney last night. They were saying "Boo-urns."

The iconic job creator Montgomery Burns once insisted that his business career resembled that of Oskar Schindler. (“We’re both factory owners, we both made shells for the Nazis, but mine worked, damn it!”) Today’s lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal uses the same basic approach, defending Mitt Romney’s low, low tax rate by comparing him to the Sage of Omaha:  “Like Warren Buffett, Mr. Romney said he makes most of his money from investments, not wages or salary.” And liberals love Buffett! Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that Buffett is a really rich guy who denounces the policies that allow him to pay a lower tax rate than people with a tiny fraction of his income, whereas Romney is a really rich guy who proposes to keep those policies in place and deepen them further. Other than that, peas in a pod.

Romney keeps insisting that he is being attacked, by Democrats and his primary opponents, for being rich. The contrast with Buffett shows exactly why that’s not the case.

Charles Krauthammer, in his Washington Post column today, repeats Romney’s error. He laments that Republicans cooperated in Obama’s gambit in changing the agenda from deficits to class warfare:

In 2010, that narrative carried the Republicans to historic electoral success. Through most of 2011, it dominated Washington discourse. The air was filled with debt talk: ceilings, supercommittees, Simpson-Bowles.

Then came the twist. Then came the most remarkable political surprise since the 2010 midterm: The struggling Democratic class-war narrative is suddenly given life and legitimacy by … Republicans! Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry make the case that private equity as practiced by Romney’s Bain Capital is nothing more than vulture capitalism looting companies and sucking them dry while casually destroying the lives of workers.

But why did Bowles-Simpson and the various deficit Grand Bargains all peter out? Because Republicans refused to accede to the Democratic demand that any solution include not only entitlement cuts but higher revenues from the rich. That is the essence of the disagreement between the two parties, and that is the backdrop for the attacks on Romney’s economic background. If Romney were running on a proposal to reform the tax code in such a way as to raise the effective tax rate on people like himself, Democrats would have no way to make his wealth and business background an issue. He would be, like Buffett, a rich man willing to do his part for shared sacrifice. But he’s not.

Here’s another way to think about it. Imagine Romney were proposing some special government subsidy to his church. Democrats would probably be making a big deal about his religious beliefs. Since Romney isn’t proposing that, nobody is invoking his religion. He is proposing a pro-rich policy agenda, so Democrats are invoking his wealth a lot, but his wealth itself isn’t really the issue.

Why Do People ‘Envy’ Romney But Not Buffett?