There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Mitt Romney said in his now-famous speech at a $50,000 a plate dinner held in May, which was videotaped, leaked and released by Mother Jones magazine this week – 47 per cent who “are dependent upon government,” he continued, “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. … These are people who pay no income tax. … So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.
“So [Barack Obama will] be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
When these words went public, Mr. Romney went some distance toward proving that he, as a businessman blessed with a remarkable talent for finding money- saving efficiencies, deserves a shot at America’s highest political office: A wasteful duplication of services was ended as Mr. Romney began running both his campaign and Mr. Obama’s at the same time, single-handedly.
I imagine over at the Obama campaign headquarters, staffers watched the tape and said, “Hey, who wants to go out to a movie?” I bet box-office returns in Washington were up by at least 30 tickets this past week. And that’s just a glimpse of the economic recovery Mr. Romney assured those dinner guests they could expect following his victory.
“If we win on Nov. 6,” he explained, “there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back, and we’ll see – without actually doing anything – we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.”
Credit to Mr. Romney that he was able, without giggling, to make this well-received promise to dining donors, just after he condemned those who allegedly expect “food,” “housing” and similar luxuries, also delivered to them without them actually doing anything.
As an economic plan, “things usually turn out great for me” feels a bit vague. Although it looks like the Marshall Plan when compared with Mr. Romney’s proposal for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “We kick the ball down the field,” he offered in answer to a question at the fundraiser, “and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve.”
While this may look like Mr. Romney contradicting his previously publicly stated position that he supports the Middle East peace process, and indicating that if he is elected, there will be a major policy shift on the conflict (the United States has favoured a two-state solution since the Clinton administration), it isn’t.
Rather, it is Mr. Romney’s attempt to answer his critics and show he shares the mindset of the ordinary American – a person he depicts as a shiftless, directionless parasite devoid of personal responsibility or motivation.
Right now, at the Romney headquarters, where the mood is rumoured to be vacillating between that established in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and the exact moment when Old Yeller gets shot, I imagine someone has proposed owning the moment and changing their campaign’s slogan to “Romney: Kick the ball down the field, 2012.”
They have already doubled down on the things Mr. Romney says on the tape. They were, he said, merely “not elegantly stated.” I’ll have to listen again. Perhaps when Mr. Romney called everyone in America who does not pay federal income tax a faux-victim perpetually sucking at the government’s teat, he ended the sentence with a preposition or something.
I guess Mr. Romney, whose campaign has been premised upon the notion that his own boundless good fortune is infectious and America can’t afford to pass him up, needs to demonstrate how far that self-confidence goes.
The bulk of people who do not pay federal income tax (many of whom pay a payroll tax of 15 per cent, a rate two points above the lowest rate Mr. Romney paid on the few tax returns he has disclosed) are retirees, students, those who would owe income tax if not for various tax credits (many of which were introduced by Republicans), and those who, despite labouring in some of America’s most back-breaking jobs, earn so little that they are not required to pay income tax.
Most of these people, in my experience, do not denigrate America. They mostly do not believe their circumstances to be carved in stone and, by God, they hustle.
“Any politician can demonize a minority,” Mr. Romney almost says on that tape. “It takes a man of rare vision to demonize a demographic that’s a margin of error away from being the majority, a huge swath of whom traditionally support my party. Vote for my moxie.”