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When Clueless Wealth Stops Being Funny

All of us, yours truly certainly included, have had our fun so far this campaign over Mitt Romney's cluelessness about his extreme wealth, the litany of lines that betray just out of touch a life spanning Cranbrook Prep, Bain Capital and La Jolla has made him. But in today's Boston Globe, columnist Joan Vennochi offers a tart reminder that there are implications to this cluelessness that aren't funny at all. Venocchi zeroes in on an appearance by Ann Romney on Fox News last week in which she declared, "I don't even consider myself wealthy." Here, from ABC, is the context of the remark:

Mitt Romney may have more money than any other presidential candidate in the race, but his wife said today that she does not consider herself wealthy. “We can be poor in spirit, and I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing,” Ann Romney said in an interview on Fox News. “It can be here today and gone tomorrow.”
Romney’s comment came during a discussion about her battle with Multiple Sclerosis, and specifically in response to a question from Fox’s Neal Cavuto about whether the Romneys are “oblivious, given your wealth, to the everyday concerns of average folks.”
“How I measure riches,” Romney continued, “is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people that I care about in my life, and that’s where my values are and that’s where my riches are.”

The comment caused a brief titter, coming on the heels of Mr. Romney's many tone-deaf remarks, but it caused less damage than his, and rightfully so, given that it came from the candidate's spouse, not himself. But Vennochi draws an important link between Ann's ruminations on health and wealth and Mitt's insistence that as president he will jettison the national health care law inspired by the universal coverage he brought to Massachusetts:

As she knows, illness is the great equalizer, since it strikes without regard for net worth. But it can also be the great divider, in terms of access to health care. That’s what health care reform is aimed at changing and what her husband once championed.
Under Governor Mitt Romney’s leadership, Massachusetts passed a law that equalizes health care access for rich and poor. Yet as he gets closer to securing the Republican presidential nomination, Romney fervently pledges to repeal national health care reform. With that pledge, he’s also promising to deny millions of average Americans the same access to medical care his wife has, simply because she married a man who came to be worth $250 million.

Disease is not deterred by Romney’s bank accounts. But his money gives Ann Romney access to the best doctors, the best treatments, and the lifestyle most conducive to coping with MS, including horseback riding. No one begrudges her that. But the difference between what his wife can afford and what is available to a person of lesser means is the driving issue behind national health care reform — and Romney knows it. But to win the GOP nomination, Romney must walk away from the equity principle behind Romneycare and Obamacare, and so he does.

The column is worth reading in full. Put simply, at some point in the months ahead, after Romney makes his big pivot to the center, the Romneycare question is going to stop being: how can we trust you do away with Obamacare if you signed a similar law in Massachusetts? Instead, it's going to be: why do you believe that the working and middle-class people without health insurance in Richmond and San Antonio and Fresno deserve any less assistance than did the people of Fall River and Fitchburg?

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis