The Shark, and How to Jump It: Mitt Romney’s campaign looks like chum in the water

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Does anybody use the expression “Jump the Shark” anymore? The pop-idiom refers to a 1977 episode of the TV show Happy Days where Fonzie, a tough character with a heart of gold, literally dons a pair of water skis and jumps a shark. The saying is used to describe any evolutionary moment when someone or something — a Republican presidential candidate for example— finally loses touch with the qualities that have defined past success and shifts irretrievably from viability into ridiculousness.

From sea to shining shark-filled sea Democrats are surging, due in part to the release of a video clip that documents Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney describing half of America as parasites who pay no Federal income tax. A new Pew poll shows President Obama with an 8-point lead over Romney who, at this point, might as well be wearing swim trunks and a black leather jacket.

There’s been a lot of chatter as to why the Romney Sex Tape ™ (a voyeuristic fantasy for people who love artificial boobs) has been so incredibly damaging. All of that commentary can be summed up with a single YouTube link. But why stop there?

$50,000 is hefty price to pay for a midday meal. And that was the per-plate cost to attend the now infamous fundraiser where Romney wrote off 47% of the American electorate. That’s almost double the money average Americans earn in a year and nobody who puts in 40+ hours a week wants to be told that they're what's wrong with America, even if they have to live with the shame of only making half of what a single Romney donor shells out for lunch. From a purely populist standpoint it’s probably the most singly damaging thing a viable candidate has said since Barry Goldwater imagined the entire Eastern Seaboard floating out to sea.

By moving beyond traditional identity politics at a time when the demographically-challenged GOP needs all the angry white guys it can get Romney openly disrespected elderly voters and insulted our combat troops. He also became the GOP’s most toxic asset for reasons that may not be obvious at first glance.

Although the Earned Income Tax Credit was originally championed by a pair of Democrats, a big Federal tax exemption for poor people is one of the best things that ever happened to the Republican Party. The original bill, passed in 1975 under Gerald Ford, was broadly liberalized in 1986 by Ronald Reagan who described the EITC as the best anti-welfare, pro-family, pro-job-creation bill to come out of congress. Why was this government giveaway so awesome you might ask? Because it was a pro-business welfare-to-work initiative that subsidized cheap labor and provided the working poor with more money to give back to their bosses. That’s the economics behind the EITC, the political implications cut in a completely different direction. These same tax cuts implemented to move poor people from direct-pay welfare to low-income work also gave Republicans a new metric to measure the shiftlessness of poor people who take, and take, and take, and don’t give anything back. A friend — to give credit where due— has described the political nature of the EITC as “a permanent resentment machine” — a clean, renewable fuel source for class warfare. The trick, of course, has always been to play the numbers selectively to create conflict between different sets of low-income-earners, not to give them common cause.

By using such a large number — 47%— Romney exposed the not-so-progressive underpinnings of a progressive tax code and wrecked the “Welfare Queen” illusion that’s been a staple of Republican politics since Reagan coined the term in his campaign against Jimmy Carter. In a single perfectly disastrous line Romney insulted half the country, stuck a knife in the Reaganomic heart of modern Conservatism, and forced Americans who, at this point in a Presidential election would normally be quibbling over guns, gods, and gays, to wonder en mass who the real parasites might be. At a time when Wall Street bonuses remain high, wages remain stagnant, jobs are scarce, and income inequality is the highest it's been 45 years it's not a tough call.

In political terms we’re a long way from November 6. Just about anything could happen between now and election day. But, unlike the shark-jumping Fonz, Mitt Romney failed to clear his obstacle. And there’s blood water.

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