Welcome to Perspectives, a blog of thoughts, commentary and observations ranging from autistic adolescents to intimate portraits of urban communities.


Safety Net

Several of you reminded me that some people sleep on the subway because that is the only place they can sleep. Last evening a man on a packed uptown train emitted a stench that literally cleared the back third of the car.

And Mitt Romney said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.”

I know there is a connection here.

But I don’t think it’s the obvious one that everybody pounced on. Mitt Romney doesn’t seem any more out of touch with the world of struggling people than any of the other candidates who ride around in big buses, insulated by aides, and speak in platitudes to hand-picked crowds. Maybe they would have developed more empathy for the dispossessed if they had done a stint as community organizers.

Still, no amount of backpedaling, clarifications and “you-took-me-out-of-contexts” can justify Romney’s remark because:

  1. The “safety net” is the essence of the welfare state that is under assault by all the GOP candidates. To use its current existence to dismiss the plight of the very poor is hypocrisy.
  2. The idea that the safety net is adequate (in fairness, Romney said he’d fix it) seems a little callous. As the stinking man made clear, the subway provides sleeping places, not bathing facilities . . . which may explain why the reaction to him was startlingly sympathetic.
  3. Polls show that most Americans are incensed at the rich and the poor. But the notion that politicians should divide the country into those they care about and those they don’t – whether it’s Romney’s 90-95% or Rove’s 50% +1 – contradicts the duty of a president to bring us all together.

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