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Why Romney's "Firing" Gaffe Really Resonates
Much has been made of Mitt Romney's "I like being able to fire people" gaffe:
"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," Romney said at a Monday breakfast in New Hampshire, when talking about health care. "You know, if someone doesn't give me a good service that I need, I want to say, 'I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.'"
If you haven't seen it yet, video is here:
Romney was making a fairly mundane point about being able to change from one health insurance company to another and used a particularly unfortunate choice of words, particularly given his reputation as a heartless, robotic job-killing vulture capital CEO. But watching the video clip is profoundly disturbing in a way that goes beyond just a thoughtless gaffe. James Fallows postulates that it's because he used the word "enjoy" in the context of the act of firing someone--an act that should in no way be enjoyable for the person on either end of the pink slip, if they have any empathy.
But not even that gets at the heart of what is so wrong with Romney's statement. It goes much deeper, to Romney's sense of privilege, and a relationship to the world around him that is alien to most Americans and reinforces everything that is wrong with the 1% in America.
The key part of what's off-putting about the gaffe isn't the first part about liking to fire people, so much as the second part about "who provide services to me." Liking to fire people is bad enough, but this is the real kicker.
When it comes to basic services like healthcare, almost no one in America sees the relationship that way. Most of us wouldn't speak of "firing" our health insurance company. No matter how much we might detest our insurance company, we probably wouldn't describe the experience of removing ourselves from their rolls an enjoyable one.
But most of all, we don't see the health insurance company as providing us a service. We see ourselves, rather, as indentured supplicants forced to pay exorbitant monthly rates for a basic need that responsible people with means can't get out of paying for if we can help it. We don't see ourselves as in control of the relationship with them. They are in control of us--and no more so than when we get sick and need the insurance most. If the company decides to restrict our coverage or tell us we have a pre-existing condition after all, we're in the position of begging a capricious and heartless corporation to cover costs we assumed we were entitled to based on a contractual obligation. It's precisely when we need insurance most that we're least able to "fire" the insurance company.
The same goes for the rent/mortgage, for the utilities, for the car, for the cell phone bill, for nearly everything. Most of these things are necessary commodities for most Americans. Many are socially expected, even if not technically necessary. They all have (usually far overpriced) unavoidable monthly charges and premiums that fall on overworked and underpaid Americans every month like a load of bricks. We see many of them increase by at least 5-20% year over year even as our wages stay flat. All we can do is struggle to keep up, trying to find the least bad service for the lowest price we can afford, but knowing we're getting gouged every step of the way.
Romney talks about paying for health insurance as if it were the same as getting a pedicure, hiring an escort or getting the fancy wax at a car wash. It's a luxury service being provided to him, and he doesn't like it, he can take his business elsewhere. Romney's is the language of a man who has never wanted for anything, never worried about where his next paycheck would come from, never worried about going bankrupt if he got sick.
It is the language of an entitled empowerment utterly alien to the experience of most Americans, who feel victimized and bled dry without recourse by these rentier corporations. Romney sees himself as in charge of the relationship between himself and these entities. Most Americans don't. That's why the statement rankles and feels so off-putting to us. The mention of enjoying the act of "firing" them is just icing on the cake.
When it comes to health insurance companies and their ilk, most Americans think of the relationship more like this:
It's an experience Mitt Romney wouldn't even begin to understand.