So the Republicans had yet another debate this weekend, this time in Iowa, and, with Herman Cain having bid his presidential aspirations adieu (or something less Frenchy and traitorous), and Jon Huntsman off fucking around in New Hampshire because his poll numbers were too low to qualify him for participation in the debate (whoops!), there were a modest six participants in the ABC News debate on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines: Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Michele Bachmann.
I'm sure there's a transcript somewhere, but who cares, amirite? Taxes, Reagan, illegals, Jesus, bootstraps, taxes, Obama stinks. Even if the Republicans' rap weren't already as predictable as my response to a Jay Leno monologue (boom!), I think we'd all sufficiently have gotten the picture after fully 500 debates during this interminable primary.
Anyway! There was one vaguely notable incident during the debate: Mitt Romney challenged Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet (like normal people do all the time) over Perry's contention that Romney's position on healthcare mandates has flip-flopped. (It has.)
Naturally, people took notice of Romney's proposed wager, not just because he is wrongity-wrong, but also because it's maybe not the smartest idea he's ever had to flippantly bet 20% of the median US household annual income as if it's pocket change, while the country is in a virtual depression.
But Mitt Romney is nothing if not a deeply awkward campaigner whose unexamined multi-layered privilege makes him so cringe-inducingly clueless that he can make exponentially worse even the most minor controversy surrounding his extreme wealth. So, in New Hampshire the following day, Romney recalled how "his experience as a Mormon missionary in France had given him an appreciation for the privileges of his upbringing."
Living on no more than $110 a month in France – which Romney said was the equivalent of $500 or $600 in today's dollars – the former Massachusetts governor said he learned to live simply when he left for France in 1966 at the age of 19, stretching those dollars to cover food, clothing and rent over two and a half years in France. He lived in a series of apartments with little or no plumbing or amenities like refrigeration.Okay, first of all, if you want to be president of the United States of America, you should probably indicate some awareness that there are still lots of the people in the United States of America who are living in extreme poverty.
"You're not living high on the hog at that level," he said. "A number of the apartments that I lived in when I was there didn't have toilets – we had instead the little pads on the ground – OK, you know how that works, pull – there was a chain behind you with kind of a bucket, bucket affair. I had not experienced one of those in the United States."
Romney said he and his fellow missionaries showered once a week at a facility where you could pay a few francs to bathe – "Or if we were got lucky, we actually bought a hose and would hold it there on the sink … and wash ourselves that way."
"I lived in a way that people of lower middle income in France lived and I said to myself, 'Wow. I sure am lucky to be born in the United States of America,' " Romney said, adding that he began to appreciate "the freedoms and the gifts that come by virtue of having been in this country."
Secondly, it's gross to talk about living simply while doing voluntary missionary work in Europe as if that was experiencing real poverty. Real poverty is like walking a tightrope ten stories up with no safety gear; Romney might have spent a minute on a highwire, but he had the secure safety net of his parents' multimillion dollar fortune stretched beneath his feet the whole time.
I believe the great social commentator Jarvis Cocker said it best: "Rent a flat above a shop / Cut your hair and get a job / Smoke some fags and play some pool / Pretend you never went to school / But still you'll never get it right / 'Cuz when you're laid in bed at night / Watching roaches climb the wall / If you call your dad he could stop it all, yeah / You'll never live like common people / You'll never do whatever common people do / Never fail like common people / You'll ever watch your life slide out of view / And then dance and drink and screw / Because there's nothing else to do."
I can't wait to hear Raconteur Romney tell us about the time he got a profound understanding of homelessness by going camping.