I don’t feel like one but, according to Mitt Romney, I am. By now you have, no doubt, heard about the infamous video that’s all over the internet of Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney. Apparently the Governor was secretly recorded while speaking at a fundraising event in Florida on May 17th and his comments have raised a lot of eyebrows.
Here is the video from the fundraiser as released by the website Mother Jones.
The key quote I want to focus on from the Governor is the following:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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. 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…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Since the video has been made public, the Romney campaign has made a number of statements in response. Here are a sampling:
“Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney’s plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.” – Romney Campaign Statement
“I think he has to not apologize. … What he said is probably what he thinks.” – Donald Trump
““I am sure I can state it more clearly and effectively than I did in a setting like that…I am talking about a political process of drawing people in my campaign. … My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility…This is ultimately a question about the direction of the country. Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?” – Mitt Romney
Lots of explaining away the remarks, but no backing down. Romney also added this his remarks were “off the cuff” which, rather than help explain, makes it even more clear these statements reflect his true and honest view of the country. Trump is right. Based on the response to the video being made public, it’s clear that the only regret on the part of Romney is that his statements were not as “eloquent” as they could have been. That, my friends, is a good thing.
Too often we are forced to analyze candidates based on what we think they believe based on carefully scripted public statements and, of course, their actions – actions which, too often, are explained away by a spokesperson. Here we have a candidate who has clearly articulated how he views the country and those who may not vote for him. But it goes beyond that – it’s impactful because it doesn’t introduce a new idea. We have always suspected this is how Romney views the electorate, so these statements are serve as more of a confirmation than anything else
Beyond that, however, there are 3 reasons this gaffe (if one can even call it that) won’t be going away.
1. He’s wrong
In the video, Romney says that those who don’t pay any income tax won’t support him. But a quick look at the map, below, shows just how wrong that is. Look at the 10 states with the highest percentage of people not paying income tax – almost all Republican states (8 of the 10 have Republican Governors). On the flip side, those with the lowest percentages tend to skew Democratic.
2. Who is Romney counting in the 47%? Who is he leaving out?
The other point here is that, while it is true about 47% of Americans don’t pay income tax, the majority of those do pay other taxes (state, federal payroll etc…). The percentage of Americans, according to the Tax Policy Center, that really don’t pay any Federal taxes is closer to 18%. Most of those are elderly living on social security or extremely low-income families. If you remove the elderly from the math, you are left with about 8% of the population – the majority of whom don’t have jobs and are living on other income (alimony, child support etc…) So, according to the non-partisan tax policy center, the percentage of the population not paying Federal taxes, and making more than $20K annually, but below the threshold for tax liability based on household size and other factors, is closer to 1%. Of course, some of what makes up that 1% may well be the roughly 3,000 people who, despite making $2,178,866+ in 2011 – some of whom may have been in the room when Romney made his pronouncement – pay no federal income taxes. Are they victims and irredeemable?
3. What does being reliant on the Government actually mean?
This is the crux of the issue with what Romney said. He is deriding a significant portion of the population for being reliant on Government support. But does that mean? Is it reliance to take advantage of tax breaks to purchase a home? Is it reliance for a Veteran take advantage of the GI Bill to get education? Is it reliance to have student loans? Is it reliance to use roads the Government paid for paving? Is it reliance to expect a tax deduction for making a contribution to charity? Is it reliance to deduct childcare expenses? Is it reliance to call 911 in an emergency?
These questions are relevant because, so far, we don’t know what Mitt Romney would cut in order to balance out the giant tax cut he is proposing. He has said time and time again that any tax cuts would be “revenue neutral” and offset by closing loopholes and ending certain tax breaks. What he hasn’t said is which ones he is eyeing. Given these comments, it is safe to assume that the loopholes he would close are the ones that “moochers” like me use. That would be things like the aforementioned student loans, the mortgage interest tax break and others. It might be cutting even more from Medicare and, while repealing the Affordable Care Act, it might mean the promised replacement (which he also refuses to talk about) would be something more akin to a privatized system.
So what does this all mean? Well, to Governor Romney, it appears that tax breaks for the wealthy are right and proper, but “loopholes” that allow middle and lower class people to have an opportunity to succeed leads to entitlement. Governor Romney’s assertion that those lower income people think they are entitled to things like food and housing suggests a society that has no responsibility for helping those less fortunate. His callous writing off of these people as folks who he will never be able to reach suggest this is a man who should not be running for President. It suggests a society where it is truly every person for themselves. That’s not the country Ronald Reagan imagined and it’s not the America I believe in. Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, took an estimated (according to his administration) 6 million low income people off the tax rolls – to him that wasn’t a problem, but the right thing to do. In today’s Republican party that idea would seem to be a non-starter. Romney called the EITC a “sweeping victory for fairness…perhaps the biggest anti-poverty program in our history.” Quite the difference from how Romney sees the low-income population. Reagan clearly cared. Romney said “My job is not to worry about those people. ”
I’ll let conservative columnist David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, have the final word. While he acknowledges Romney’s points about an “entitlement state growing at an unsustainable rate” he takes great issue with what Romney said and how he said it. He lists several misconceptions that Romney must hold given the comments and says:
“The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.”