BOCA RATON, Fla., where Mitt Romney made his now infamous remarks, is an unusual place. I lived in and around Boca for six years to be near my mom, who passed away at a Boca hospice in 2005.
Romney was there to host a $50,000 per person gathering when he said that 47 percent of the American people "who don't pay income taxes" are people who "are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
Romney is right that 47 percent of the population do not pay federal income taxes, but that's deceiving. Two-thirds of that 47 percent pay payroll taxes or are on Social Security or in the military. The rest are poor or disabled.
The notion that half of Americans don't pay taxes has long been a right wing deception, one of those lines they keep repeating with no regard for truth.
While Boca Raton is home to a lot of big money, it also has a large working class, mostly in the service and real estate industries.
I worked in a golf pro shop, which was fun, and yes, I paid about 20 percent of my $12-an-hour salary in payroll taxes as opposed to the 14 percent Romney paid on the millions he earned (according to that one year of tax returns he has allowed us to see).
The country club where I worked was so rich that one day we had a "sale" and did $90,000 in goods. I know because I added up all the "chits" at the end of the night.
Most of the people I came to know at this country club were wonderful people who made their money the old fashioned way, by working their whole life for it. One of the wealthiest members, owner of a large company we all know, invited me to Thanksgiving dinner at his home the week my mother died. I'll never forget his thoughtfulness.
But in the early 2000s, new guys showed up -- hedge fund managers -- and they were rolling in dough. Like Romney, they paid 15 percent in taxes – the capital gains rate – on the money they made, instead of regular income taxes. Some of them would come in the pro shop and buy a new set of Calloway golf clubs, up to $5,000, just to play one round. Their wives would spend even more.
Boca became the kind of place where guys would rent Rolex watches for the weekend so women would think they had money. (No kidding)
When I first arrived in Boca, a friend and I pulled into a place and the parking lot was full of Hummers – an expensive, military-like four wheel drive vehicle – and the only hill in Boca is the landfill.
"What, are we under attack?" I asked her.
Boca was also the playground of some monumental crooks who could hide their wealth from creditors by investing in Florida real estate, thanks to Florida's tricky "homestead" law. The band of thieves who ran WorldCom Corporation was based in Boca, a group of con-artists who took over MCI, which was founded by Wilkes-Barre native Bill McGowan. They ran the company into the ground, losing millions for people who held on to their MCI stock.
The most famous felon was Dennis Kozlowski, CEO of Tyco International, who today is doing eight to 25 years at a New York prison. He and his wife also owned a bar in town.
Tyco had a strong balance sheet, and still does, but Kozlowski raided the publicly-traded company like Genghis Khan.
Kozlowski had Tyco pay $1 million – half of the $2 million tab – for his wife's 40th birthday party on the island of Sardinia, which featured an ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David urinating Stolichnaya vodka.
It is no wonder that Romney talked so openly to that group of supporters in Boca.
He felt at home.
John Watson is the former publisher of the Sunday Dispatch in Pittston. He lives in Seattle. Contact him via email at email@example.com.