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Profile: Eric Fehrnstrom

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Eric Fehrnstrom was a participant or observer in the following events:

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) visits the Iowa State Fair. He is flanked by several campaign volunteers.Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) visits the Iowa State Fair. He is flanked by several campaign volunteers. [Source: Washington Post]Presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) delivers a speech at the Iowa State Fair, just before a Republican presidential debate the same evening and an upcoming Iowa straw poll, and after the speech, he tells the crowd that “corporations are people.” Romney has some difficulty with members of the audience during the question-and-answer session. The first questioner asks if Romney, as president, would be willing to raise the cap on payroll taxes so that rich people would have to pay more into the system. Romney, who is worth well over $200 million, answers that such a move would be the same as “attacking people because of their success,” and adds, “You know, there was a time in this country when we didn’t celebrate attacking people based on their success and when we didn’t go after people because they were successful.” He then attacks President Obama’s fiscal policies (later saying that he believes Obama may “take… his political inspiration from the social Democrats of Europe”), and claims that “half” of Americans “pay no taxes at all.” He also claims that if the country intends to pay the same Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits to citizens in the future as it pays today, taxes for those programs would have to be raised from 15 percent of income to 44 percent. A second questioner asks Romney what he intends to do to strengthen Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare without cutting benefits. He shouts down the questioner, and answers another crowd member who says, “You came here to listen to the people,” by saying, “No, no, no, no, I came here to speak, and you’ll get to answer your question.” Some in the crowd boo him. He then says about Social Security and Medicare: “I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s my answer.” As he delivers his answer, some in the crowd begin chanting: “Wall Street greed! Wall Street greed!” He tells the crowd that in order to “save” Social Security, “completely eliminating the cap without increasing benefits actually creates a long-term surplus, and eliminating the cap while increasing benefits comes close.” During the exchange, Romney supporters, who make up the majority of the crowd, cheer the candidate on. Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes that Romney “frequently responded belligerently to their anger.” Romney spurs further ire when he says that the US “should consider a higher retirement age” for Social Security and Medicare in order to preserve tax breaks for corporations. He says he does not support preserving Social Security by raising taxes on people, and some in the crowd shout: “Corporations! Corporations!” Romney then responds, “Corporations are people, my friend.” Some in the crowd shout back, “No they’re not!” and Romney replies: “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?” Someone shouts, “It goes into your pocket!” and Romney retorts: “Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.” Millhiser writes of the exchange: “Romney’s antagonists are right that corporate money flows right into Romney’s pockets. Indeed, Romney has taken more money from corporate and other lobbyists than all the other GOP candidates put together, and this will likely only be the beginning for Romney if he becomes the GOP nominee.” Millhiser writes that it is likely Romney is referring to the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in characterizing “corporations [as] people.” [Washington Post, 8/11/2011; Think Progress, 8/11/2011; Think Progress, 8/11/2011]
'Debate Prep' - The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker calls the “testy” interactions between Romney and the audience “the best debate prep session he could have hoped for.” Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is less impressed, saying in a statement that Romney’s characterization of corporations as people is a “shocking admission.” She adds, “Mitt Romney’s comment today that ‘corporations are people’ is one more indication that Romney and the Republicans on the campaign trail and in Washington have misplaced priorities.” [Washington Post, 8/11/2011]
Romney Campaign Defends Characterization - Later in the day, Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom defends the “corporations are people” statement on Twitter, posting: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.” Romney’s Republican opponent Jon Huntsman (R-UT) counters through spokesperson Tim Miller, again on Twitter; Miller posts, “Was American Pad & Paper Company a person/friend?” The reference is to the firm American Pad and Paper (AMPAD), which was a thriving company before Romney’s firm Bain Capital acquired it, closed two of its US plants, laid off 385 workers, and drove the firm into bankruptcy. [TPM DC, 8/11/2011]
'Gift' to Opponents - National Public Radio’s Frank James calls the statement “a gift” to Romney’s political opponents, and says it may well follow him all the way into the November presidential elections if Romney wins the Republican nomination. “He just made their goal of pushing the narrative that he is a tool of corporate America much easier by providing them with that handy piece of video,” James writes. He also notes that Twitter is almost immediately inundated with posts mocking the comment. James’s NPR colleague Liz Halloran, who is in the crowd, later writes of the comment, “Not his best moment.” She praises Romney for being willing to engage with his critics during the exchange. [National Public Radio, 8/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Eric Fehrnstrom, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Bain Capital, American Pad and Paper, Barack Obama, Tim Miller, Willard Mitt Romney, Liz Halloran, Jon Huntsman, Ian Millhiser, Frank James, Philip Rucker, Iowa State Fair

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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