Monday, September 17, 2012

The 47 Percent Solution

I'm going to try to get past the urge to spike the ball and do a touchdown dance over Mitt Romney's unfortunate comments to campaugn donors that surfaced today. They were clumsy and awkward, sure, like so much of what Romney says. But they were substantive.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.
Stop talking now, Mitt, stop talking now.

That's a completely accurate statement. Nothing wrong with it except maybe omitting that there are also 47 percent of the people who will vote against the president no matter what. I'm not going to speculate as to why that is because I'm smart enough to shut up.

But Romney keeps going, perhaps trying to bond with the wealthy donors:
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 not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
A slap in the face to a lot of people? Sure. But let's look closer. This behind closed doors remark shows that Romney gets this is a base election, and that he's preparing to play it as such. It's a short-sighted strategy for the Republicans, flying in the face of demographics. (Although Mitt seems sensitive to that, as he also said he wishes he were Hispanic.) But Romney knows it's his only, narrow path to victory.

The 47 percent figure is also interesting, coming as it does on the anniversary of the Occupy movement. Recall the We Are The 99 Percent slogan. Conservatives responded, less successfuly, with "We Are The 53 Percent" who pay taxes. That's a myth, of course, but Romney playing into that myth is noteworthy.

I'm always suspicious of politicians who refer to "taxpayers" more than they refer to "citizens" or "the public." Occasionally I see bumperstickers that say "Only Taxpayers Should Vote." Yet even the poorest of us, whose 1040 EZ liability is zero, pay sales taxes and gasoline taxes and property taxes (either directly or as part of the rent) year round.

And even someone with a fair sized income can, completely legally, end up with zero liability. Romney may know something about that.

 What may be just as damaging as the remarks themselves is the question of whether Romney really means it or not. If he tries to distance himself, he reinforces the idea that he'll say and do anything to get elected. Doubling down isn't really plausible either.

It used to be a given that a president represented all the American people. Sure, that hasn't been the reality for a long time. But it's sad that Romney doesn't even pay lip service to the ideal.

There's no way to know if this is a fatal moment for the Romney campaign; he has enough other problems right now. But this is something that will resonate for quite some time. The comedians are writing punch lines even now.

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