By now, you’ve all heard or read the heinous remarks Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser in Boca. Everyone from David Brooks to the Daily Kos has weighed in on his remarks about the 47%. What surprises me, though, is that almost no one is untangling Mitt’s logic and pointing out that he’s talking about apples and oranges and bananas as if they were all grapefruit.
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… 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.
What’s remarkable is not that Romney wrote off half the country (we knew that); what’s remarkable is that the mystical 47% refers, in the course of six sentences, to three very different things – Obama’s base, people receiving some form of government assistance, and finally to those who pay no federal income tax. Romney is referring to these as if they were all exactly the same thing, and of course, they AREN’T. But why would he do that? Look at the points one by one:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.“ It’s true. It’s also true that a similar percentage is locked and loaded for the GOP; there are far fewer “undecideds” in this race than in the past. This is the argument Romney fell back on in defending these statements to the press: he’s not trying to win over this 47%, he’s trying to appeal to the five-to-seven percent who still are undecided. There’s nothing inflammatory about this at all, it’s conventional wisdom that this election belongs to the candidate who turns out his base and captures enough undecided voters to close it out.
“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.” Wait – what?!?!? According to a libertarian think-tank at George Mason University, nearly half of American households receive some kind of government assistance. That includes food stamps and housing assistance, to be sure, but it also includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as unemployment benefits. It includes all of the elderly who paid into the system all of their working lives, and are now receiving what they are, yes, entitled to. Yet Romney states this as if the “47 percent who are with [Obama]” is the same as the 47% “dependent upon government.” This clearly untrue. Many middle class and and wealthy voters receive no government assistance and yet support Obama, including me. More tellingly, large numbers of the working poor who receive some government aid still vote for Republicans. Some of them really do believe in trickle-down economics, despite decades of proof that it doesn’t work. Some of them are single-issue values voters, who will never vote for anyone pro-choice, or pro-marriage-equality. And some of them simply have what one article (the one link I can’t find) recently called “a deep-seated personal antipathy towards Obama,” which is a really nice way of saying they are racist. In any case, there’s no truth to the idea that Obama’s base is entirely composed of those who receive benefits, or that those who receive benefits will automatically vote for him.
(No. I’m not even going to TOUCH the hateful assertion that those receiving government benefits “believe they are victims” or won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” I know Mitt Romney lives in a gilded bubble, and that he was speaking to a room full of similarly insulated hyper-wealthy individuals, but this is so desperately insulting to working people, to the elderly, and to our nation as a whole that it makes my brain explode. I’m saving that for tomorrow.)
“These are people who pay no income tax.” There is quite a bit of overlap between those who receive government benefits and those who pay no taxes, simply because our tax system is (sanely and humanely) structured to limit the tax burden on the very poor. So yes, many elderly people receiving social security pay no income taxes. Many working class families pay income taxes and then receive a full refund because the standard deductions cover their liability. But you know who else doesn’t pay income taxes? Students working part-time while they go through college. U.S. soldiers in combat zones. Oh, and of course, Mitt Romney and the thousands of other households in the top 3% of incomes who manage to zero-out their taxes with deductions, credits, and manipulation.
The sad fact is, Romney is conflating these three ideas – Obama’s base, those receiving federal aid, and those who pay no taxes – for a simple and craven reason. This is their narrative, repeated again and again at the Values Voters Summit this past weekend:
“There’s a growing segment of the American population that is dependent on government funds and largesse,” says Dean Welty, an activist from Virginia. “Many of them give the Obama administration credit for that. We have the largest number of people on welfare we’ve ever had. We have the largest number of people on unemployment. It’s not good for the country, but it’s good for Obama.”
and again, from The Slate,
“Forty-seven million on food stamps and the regime is advertising for more,” said [Rush] Limbaugh in July. “We have 47, 48 percent who pay no income taxes. We have 3 million more off the unemployment rolls and on the disability rolls, and they all vote.”
Romney was speaking directly to this Republican narrative, stoking the fears of those who believe our black president is willfully destroying the economy to create a culture of dependence to expand his base. In this hateful scenario, Obama voters are all welfare queens, living off hardworking folks like you and me. They contribute NOTHING, they don’t even pay taxes, they refuse to take responsibility for themselves, and that’s the culture this president encourages….
It’s a sad and horrifying mash-up of Ayn-Randian narcissism, paranoia, and racism. It’s the crudest, basest dog-whistle, but it works, apparently even with multi-millionaires. I suppose they too may have “deep-seated personal antipathy” towards President Obama.