Romney: Talking About Income Inequality In Public Means You're Just Envious

January 11, 2012 11:39 am ET — Kate Conway

Mitt Romney

After an expected triumph in the New Hampshire primary last night, Mitt Romney used his victory speech to go on the attack, accusing President Obama of "divid[ing] us with the bitter politics of envy." This morning on the Today show, host Matt Lauer confronted Romney about his language, wondering if Romney acknowledges that there are legitimate questions about "the distribution of wealth and power" — or if he's content to paint all concerns about rising income inequality and the abusive practices of financial institutions with the broad brush of "jealousy."

Romney was unequivocal: "I think it's all about envy."

LAUER: I'm curious about the word envy. Do you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy or is it about fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare. I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus 1 percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent, you've opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country, which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.

When Lauer pressed Romney on whether there are "no fair questions about the distribution of wealth," Romney suggested that perhaps there are legitimate concerns — but we'd better not talk about them in public.

ROMNEY: You know, I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like, but the president has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere we go, or he goes, we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach, and I think it'll fail.

Watch:

Romney is tacitly admitting that there is room for dialogue about how tax policy impacts different groups of income earners — but only in "quiet rooms." Yet Romney is running for president of the United States, and he's made public an economic proposal that includes changes to the tax code. Why would he want to suppress public discussion of a topic that's directly related to his candidacy?

Maybe it's because his plan would only exacerbate the problem. Mitt Romney can't very well defend himself in a discussion of what's behind an increasingly lopsided distribution of wealth. So he'd rather just belittle your concerns as "envy."

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