The political world (which often lacks the loosest attachment to anything like reality) is still agog over the Romney videos released by David Corn at Mother Jones. A lot has been said and will be said over the next week.
I still think I am right that this will turn out to be a minor blip on the campaign radar when all is said and done. However, sometime(s)-blogger snarkologist correctly pointed out in a chat last night that the major damage this does to the Romney campaign is indirect. Because they are behind, they need time to catch up, and these video clips will dominate the news cycle for the next week, essentially running out the campaign clock. (7 weeks from today.)
One of the reasons I think (and I readily admit I could be very wrong about this) that this is not the game-changing event others do is that it’s not offensive at all to conservatives. In fact, many are expressing frustration that Romney is not saying these things more and in public. Almost immediately after my post yesterday, my gmail chat was pinging with conservative friends telling me they didn’t see anything untrue in Romney’s words. My Facebook wall… well, some things are better left unsaid.
I don’t think Romney did himself any favors by doing a “press availability” last night at 7:25 PM (10:25 in that time zone that some people mistakenly believe matters). Obviously, the first thought that anyone should have after watching Mitt answer three questions last night is that whoever started calling press conferences “availabilities” deserves a swift kick to the junk. But the second thought should probably be, “oh so that’s what people mean by ‘flop sweat.’”
Romney described his statements as “inelegantly stated.” Ya think? He also said they were “off the cuff” which is, as David Corn pointed out to Lawrence O’Donnell, another way of saying “from the heart.” But he didn’t back down (how could he?) from the core message of that video, which is that 47% of people were not open to hearing his policy ideas because they already pay very low taxes. What a wonderful message to send to donors, by the way. “Hi, prospective donors! I can, at max, only reach 53% of the population. Please give me money.”
All that is just the political side of this story, and that seems to be what most of the talking heads and punditry are focusing on. How does this latest gaffe affect Romney’s chances of victory? But there’s a policy question here, and some basic questions of fact. Obviously, there will always be policy differences between candidates, parties, and voters, but we should agree on the facts, and in his statements, Romney says or implies things that are just not true.
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.
First of all, and most simply, Romney is conflating the estimated 47% of people who don’t earn enough money to pay income tax as the same 47% that he considers the president’s base. We know that Romney’s campaign has had trouble with Venn diagrams in the past, but this is a pretty basic failure to grasp a simple concept. Either Romney doesn’t understand basic set math, or he assumes his audience doesn’t, and either of those possibilities is troubling.
But secondly, and more importantly, Romney states that anyone who falls into that set of lower earners considers themselves dependent on government. He says they consider themselves victims. Then he gets nasty when he says,
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.
In Mitt Romney’s world, if you don’t earn enough money to pay federal income tax, nothing will ever convince you to take personal responsibility and care for your life. It’s important to note that this 47% of Americans that Mitt is talking about pay payroll taxes and sales tax. In fact, it is quite likely that someone earning below the rate at which federal income taxes are required will pay a higher percentage of taxes on income than Mitt Romney does himself. (I can’t possibly say for sure, because Mitt Romney won’t release his taxes.)
A married person with two kids that earns $40,000 per year would owe no federal income tax, under current law. She would, however, pay about 15-20% of her income (a higher rate than Mitt Romney, from the taxes he has released) in combined Medicare, Social Security, State, and sales taxes. Does that family not believe in personal responsibility? Does that family not take care of their lives? Does that family consider themselves victims and entitled to food and housing and healthcare from the government? Does Mitt Romney believe that his job is not to worry about that family?
A friend on Facebook, Adam, said this about it:
This little word trick [about taxes] the right is using is trying to accomplish two goals: 1) make it seem like a very high % of the population is contributing nothing and 2) make people who pay no income taxes angry that other people pay no income taxes. Since these people still get taxed, including SS and payroll being taken out of their pay checks, they don’t even realize they’re the exact group their Republican heroes are denouncing and claiming not to represent.
That’s what I’d like to see the media point out, but they won’t. I keep watching, because I hate my brain, but the talking heads seem very concerned that Mitt Romney is being mean and insensitive about the 47%. I really don’t care about that. The important thing is that Mitt Romney is wrong about the 47%.
It’s really hard to make good policy even when you know all the facts. It’s impossible if you have the facts completely wrong.