Romney quizzed by Occupy protesters at N.H. town hall meeting
Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney got off to an awkward start back in New Hampshire on Wednesday when the first question he took at a town hall meeting was from an Occupy protester.
Fresh off his narrow win in Iowa, Romney was making his first campaign appearance ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10 when the questioner – who said he was from both the Occupy New Hampshire and Occupy Boston protest groups against economic inequality – raised his hand and asked a question about corporate greed.
“You have said that corporations are people, but in the last two years corporate profits have surged to record highs directly at the expense of wages,” the man said. “It seems that the U.S. is a great place to be a corporation, but increasingly a desperate place to live and work.”
“Where do you think corporations’ profit goes?” Romney shot back at the protester, who responded that corporations either retain it or it goes to shareholders, “the one percent of Americans who own 90 percent of the stocks.”
“Now, let’s get the facts,” Romney said, before explaining that corporate dividends don’t just go to the “1 percent” shareholders, but also people who have pensions.
“When the business has profit it can do good things. Give it to the shareholders and grow the enterprise and, and by the way, the only way it can hire people is if it grows the enterprise.”
But it wasn’t over. A woman Romney called on a little later followed up on the protester’s question, demanding to know if corporations that had been granted extensive tax cuts had created any jobs.
Protesters in the Occupy movement, which grew from an initial Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York City on Sept. 17, are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts were given to banks while “average” Americans are still suffering financially, and accuse politicians of being swayed by large campaign donations from big businesses.
Romney said that if the protesters could come up with a better idea than free enterprise he was willing to listen.
“It’s marvelous, the vision of the founders,” he said. “If you can come up with one that’s better that what was brought forward by John Adams and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, I’m all ears, but until then I am in favor of the one that was presented by the founders of this country.”
When the questioner interrupted Romney at one point to argue that the United States had the highest inequality in the developed world, Romney said the income per person in America was about 50 percent more than in Europe.
“[Our system] might be far from perfect, and it is, but it’s just a lot better than anything else that the world has ever seen. So in my view the right thing for us to do is to find ways to improve the system that we have rather than trying to pretend like there’s something better out there,” Romney said.
Mitt Romney is joined by U.S. Senator John McCain at a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder