Jealousy U.S.A.: The Political Secrets of Success

When asked Tuesday if Mitt Romney should release more of his tax returns, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said no, and seemed to imply that those who want to see them are just jealous of Romney's success.

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When asked Tuesday if Mitt Romney should release more of his tax returns, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said no, and seemed to imply that those who want to see them are just jealous of Romney's success. "Get over it! It's a reality. He's been successful," Chaffetz said on CNN. "That's the kind of guy I want to be president. He actually knows how to turn the economy around." One might speculate that with his forget-it-haters line, Chaffetz had strayed from the official Romney talking points about his wealth. But no, his spokeswoman Andrea Saul said much the same thing when Vanity Fair asked how Romney's IRA could grow to $102 million when tax law currently caps annual contributions at $5,000 a year. "Why should successful investments be criticized?" Saul said.

To answer a question of how the IRA grew so big by accusing the reporter of criticizing success sounds like a talking point made up by the candidate himself. Romney's supporters are far from the first Republicans to say that Democrats are exploiting envy of the rich. Last year, to cite just one example, Rep. Paul Ryan tested out the slogan "envy economics." In March, he told the Heritage Foundation, "We're coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers." But it's one thing to say Democrats are envious of rich people. It's another to say Democrats are envious of me.

Romney is tapping into a grievance that exists among a small number of Americans who have enough money to cast their hurt feelings as grave matters of national policy. Washington sports team owner and a supporter of Obama in 2008, Ted Leonsis complained of "Getting blasted as being a bad guy" last fall. He added, sounding much like Team Romney today, "Economic Success has somehow become the new boogie man; some in the Democratic party are now casting about for enemies and business leaders and anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat." (Hurt feelings have not stopped Leonsis from giving the Obama Victory Fund $45,800 this cycle.) JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon said on Meet the Press in May that his feelings were hurt, too. "I would call myself a barely Democrat, at this point… I've gotten disturbed at the -- some of the Democrats behave -- you know, anti-business behavior, the sentiment, the -- the attacks on work ethic and -- successful people."

These men (it does seem to be mostly men) are not satisfied to have enough money to buy islands or jets or souls or whatever it is they want. They want to be loved too. It's like when actors famous for being handsome expect to be taken seriously as public intellectuals. There are costs and benefits to every job. The benefit of being an action hero is you get to have sex with very attractive people. The cost is that people think you're stupid. Want to be considered smart? Be a poor and undersexed science person. Likewise, if you want global adoration, don't be a banker. Be Mother Theresa.

But Romney promises the wealthy adoration. He's offered them solidarity: At a Colorado town hall Tuesday, Romney, according to ABC News, combined all those themes. "I’m not going to apologize for success at home," he said at a Colorado town hall Tuesday, echoing what he said at CPAC in February, that he's "not ashamed to say that I was very successful at" his business. Romney's offered affection, too: "I know it seems like government doesn't like you. I love you," he told 900 business leaders in Feburary. Romney even consoles poor old Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers hounded by lefty protesters with posterboard for financing lots of conservative causes. "I understand there is a plane out there saying Mitt Romney has 'a Koch problem,'" Romney said at a fundraiser at their home last weekend. "I don’t look at it as a problem; I look at it as an asset." Romney might achieve the impossible with his presidential campaign this year: give the super-rich even more self-esteem.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.