It could be argued that the most democratic institution in the United States is the gas pump. Gone are the days (in most states and in most gas stations) where a more financially flush person can opt for full service over the ostensibly less pricey self serve. That’s why this picture of Mitt Romney, looking haggard and (dare I say) human is so plausible.
Here’s the image from The Atlantic Wire:
The encounter allegedly took place near Romney’s La Jolla, CA home. The photographer claims that he chatted with the failed presidential candidate before taking the picture.
While it’s doubtful that the normally polished Romney would have approved the release of this kind of picture during the campaign, is it possible that it would have helped? Perhaps. His robotic demeanor certainly didn’t help voters relate to him. Of course, this image would have opened another can of worms. Romney’s vulture capitalism and outsourcing of jobs make him the poster boy for shrinking wages in the United States. For Romney, a trip to the gas station is a minor hassle. For many Americans, it’s a half day’s pay, or more, thrown away.
While gas stations are one of the most democratic institutions in the United States, they are also one of the least. The mere fact that a wealthy person pays the same $4.00 per gallon as a poor person is an argument for progressive taxation. It is emblematic of why it’s wrong for the middle class to pay 30% of their income in taxes while those who can afford to shelter their income in the Cayman Islands pay 15% or less.
When Americans talk about pain at the pump, it’s not just that gasoline is expensive. It’s that gasoline is one of the most difficult things for many Americans to budget. Since GOP policies of the last 30 years have squashed expansion of mass transit in most areas and since most people have to commute, gasoline is a necessity and it’s one where price shopping makes little difference. Pain at the grocery store can be alleviated a little by buying cheaper food, but beyond good automotive maintenance and, if possible, buying a more fuel efficient car, there are few cost cutting measures that can be taken at the gas station.
While Mitt Romney might have fallen far enough to pump his own gas, sans the Secret Service, it’s doubtful that he, nor generations of Romneys to come, will truly know what a trip to the gas stations means for Americans. More importantly–and possibly one of the reasons that he lost the election–it’s doubtful he cares.