Mitt Romney was in a good place in May. His dinner host was Marc Leder, who made a fortune, just like Romney, by founding a private equity firm, Sun Capital. Mitt stood in front of about 30 people of his own small class – very rich, very important, and very conservative members of America’s real elite. Rich enough to spend $50,000 a plate for dinner with Romney, because he had just clinched the Republican nomination. Rich enough to give lots more money to any politician who might make America an even better place to be rich, important, and conservative. And they were giving it up for Mitt, their messenger, their mouthpiece, their leader. Mitt was at home.
Here is what he said, to them and now to us all, since video of that dinner can be seen on your computer: “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this President no matter what . . . . These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income tax. . . . So my job is, is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney made a lot of mistakes that night. It is not true that 47% of Americans pay no income tax. That many pay no federal income tax, but many fewer pay no state income tax. Everyone in politics knows that only 18% of households pay no taxes at all; two-thirds of households who pay no federal income tax still pay payroll tax.
That is a serious mistake, because Romney and his campaign advisers know that he was not telling the truth. But a bigger mistake was to put into the same basket all the people he doesn’t like. The 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax are, for Romney, the same 47% who vote for Obama “no matter what”. Those people feel entitled to everything they need from the government because they see themselves as victims, and those same people will never take personal responsibility for themselves.
Who are these people that Romney will not worry about, who will never be convinced to act responsibly? They are millions of retirees on Social Security, students who are no longer their parents’ dependents, the unemployed, poor families with children, and working families whose Earned Income Tax Credit eliminates their federal tax liability. And thousands of millionaires who used our tax code to pay no federal taxes.
Most of the people who use the EITC to reduce their federal taxes soon pay taxes because their economic situation improves. Romney knows that, and he knows something else: his father George “was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life,” as Romney’s mother said in an interview when George was running for governor of Michigan in 1962.
Where do these people whom Romney dismisses live? Even Whoppi Goldberg knows, as she said on “The View”, that of the 10 states with the highest percentage of people who do not pay federal taxes, Republicans are governors in 9. She’s wrong, though: all 10 governors are Republican.
The contempt for Obama voters could not be clearer. I think that is the source of the much more focused Republican hatred of Obama. Obama is the opposite of this characterization of Obama voters. He is an even better all-American story than the anecdotes that conservatives tell to prove that any American can get anywhere with hard work. But Obama has turned his back on the American Dream. Instead of being grateful for everything America has given him, he put himself at the head of the rabble, the non-tax-paying 47%, the won’t-hold-a-good-job welfare abusers, the whining masses who feel sorry for themselves. For that, conservatives hate him.
Once he found out that his remarks were being broadcast to the nation, Romney held a hasty press conference on Monday. Here he told the truth. “This is, of course, something I talk about a good deal in rallies and speeches and so forth . . . Well, um, it’s not elegantly stated . . . I’m sure I can state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that . . . . but it’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry.”
No mistake here, no correction of any of his false statements. That’s because it is not just Romney’s message. The other Republican candidates, as they each took the lead in the primaries, said the same disdainful and untrue things about half of Americans. A staffer at FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s huge organization behind many Republican campaigns, got excited: “A new video that makes me like Mitt better than I did.”
Romney does not want to be President of these Americans. He said on Monday that he approves of that message. So does the Republican establishment.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 20, 2012