No, don’t even think it: Economic Agency and the Mitt Romneys would suck as a band name. Suck hard. But the latest gaffe by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney illustrates how most Americans completely lack economic agency–and how Mitt Romney does not. First, the 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.'”
…”I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them,” he said.
While lots of people have noted that a guy who made his money by buying companies and often firing workers probably shouldn’t talk about firing people if he wants to be elected (LIZARD BRAIN: VOTERZ HAZ IT!), David Atkins nails how this describes the real and fundamental class divide between the Romneys of the world and the rest of us (boldface mine; emphasis original):
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.
This is where Romney could really run into trouble in the general election (assuming he gets that far). If the Democrats can tie Romney’s economic privilege to Republican opposition to very modest Democratic attempts–and the fucking Blue Dog Democrats have done no favors for the Democrats in this regard–to prevent obscene rent extraction, then I think, despite the dreadful economy, Democrats might actually hold onto the presidency.
Political horse race aside, this is how the 1 percent differ from the rest of us: they have agency–and thus are not treated like servants–and the rest of us do not.