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Romney moves inequality talk out of the 'quiet room'

Romney in 2012: we must leave divisive talk about econ inequality to "quiet rooms." Romney in 2015: let's talk about inequality and blame Obama.
Then, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives on stage on Nov. 7, 2012 in Boston, Mass. (Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty)
Then, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives on stage on Nov. 7, 2012 in Boston, Mass.
As Mitt Romney moves closer to launching yet another Republican presidential campaign, the former governor has told people close to him that he would make poverty one of the pillars of his candidacy. Friday night in San Diego, Romney boarded an aircraft carrier and was even more specific on this in remarks to RNC members.

He said the 2016 campaign should center on making the world safer, offering opportunity for all Americans and lifting people out of poverty. "Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before," Mr. Romney said.

The comments drew howls for good reason. The failed former candidate, as recently as 2012, dismissed 47% of Americans as lazy parasites and told a national television audience he's "not concerned about the very poor."
Making matters worse, Romney espouses a far-right economic agenda, predicated on cutting taxes on the wealthy, which would exacerbate the problem on purpose. The very idea of the Republican whining about the rich getting richer under President Obama -- as if the hyper-elitist conservative feels justified going after the president from the left -- is painfully ridiculous, even by Romney standards.
But there's a related angle to this that hasn't generated enough attention: Romney apparently hopes to draw attention to a problem he explicitly said must be ignored.
Exactly three years ago this month, as Obama and Democrats tried to emphasize the significance of economic inequalities and a widening wealth gap, Romney said the topic itself is divisive and must be rejected. "I think it's about envy," Romney told NBC's Matt Lauer. "I think it's about class warfare."
Asked if "questions about the distribution of wealth" are fair or unfair, "I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms," Romney said, adding that for Obama to make this a campaign issue is "envy-oriented."
With these comments in mind, for Romney to suddenly want to whine about Obama and "income inequality" is rather pathetic. It's as if the Republican is shamelessly telling an offensive joke that only he finds amusing.
That said, the fact that the failed former candidate is willing to pick poverty, of all things, as an issue he's going to pretend to care about, tells us something important about the broader national conversation. Back in 2007, when Romney was still pandering to social conservatives in Iowa and promising to "double Guantanamo," then-candidate Barack Obama said he was determined to shift the mainstream discussion to the left, just as Ronald Reagan did a generation earlier in moving the discussion to the right.
When Mr. Car Elevator gives a speech to members of the Republican National Committee about how concerned he is about the rich getting richer, it suggests Obama has quietly had more success than is generally acknowledged. The point isn't that Romney has worthwhile ideas in addressing poverty -- he doesn't -- but rather that Romney believes there's electoral utility in raising the issue in the first place.