UPDATE at 7:20 a.m.: Initially, some had attempted to brush this off as a “nonstory.” The Romney campaign itself has proved that claim wrong. You don’t call a late-night unscheduled televised press conference, as Romney did, to get ahead of a “nonstory.”
It’s also not true that this is something Romney has been saying on the campaign trail anyway. To my knowledge, he has sunk to this line of argument only once, back in the primaries. If I’m mistaken and he has done so more regularly, I’m sure that will surface.
In policy terms, Romney clearly believes that 47 percent of Americans — for the most part, the poorer 47 percent — ought to pay more in income taxes. There’s no other way to interpret the remarks, although some will surely try to give them imaginative new meaning. The recession has a lot to do with the increase in those not paying income tax, but a larger driver was the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. To build political support for tax cuts at the top end, President Bush was forced to include them at the low end as well.
It is a deal that Republicans, from the top man on down, clearly wish to undo. The Bush tax cuts must be preserved for everyone but the poorest 47 percent.
Somebody has slipped Mother Jones magazine a lengthy and secretly recorded videotape of Mitt Romney speaking to a group of wealthy contributors about the realities of his race with Barack Obama. Here’s one excerpt of several:
What strikes me first is not the content of the remarks but the ease with which they are delivered. As other excerpts also demonstrate, this is the real Romney, speaking before his peers and finally comfortable with who he is. He isn’t awkward or hesitant about playing a role, which is how he comes across usually. This is the guy who ran Bain Capital, freed to be himself and say what he believes.
And this is what he believes:
“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 that 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…
“Our message of low taxes doesn’t connect … 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. What I have to do is convince the five to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful….”
To much of the Republican base, that’s going to go over big. It’s what they want to hear, the red meat that they’ve been clamoring to be fed. This is Mitt Romney’s way of telling his wealthy campaign contributors that THEY are the victims, that THEY are being cheated by the government and that he is there to protect them.
However, Romney is also calling some 47 percent of the American people hopeless freeloaders. That would presumably include everyone on Social Security, everyone who got an education through a federal student loan, everyone who ever collected unemployment to get them through hard times, everyone on Medicare or collecting veterans benefits.
Millions of them are working people with full-time jobs, trying as hard as they can to make better lives for themselves. They just don’t make a lot of money doing it. Romney’s disdain notwithstanding, many if not most of the 47 percent who do not pay income taxes do pay significant payroll taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette and alcohol taxes and other taxes that end up making their effective tax rate as high as Romney’s.
And in millions of cases, they don’t pay income taxes because of the Republican tax cuts enacted to further the Republican campaign to drive the federal government to its knees through deficits.
There’s also the matter of accuracy. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Obama leads Romney by 47/45 percent among Americans with income of $100,000 or above. So an awful lot of highly successful Americans support Obama.
Among those making less than $50,000 — basically, those 47 percent who don’t pay federal income taxes — Obama gets 55 percent while Romney gets a still healthy 39 percent. But they are clearly held in disdain by the man who wants to be their president.
This video is going to come across as a window into the way that rich Americans talk with each other in private about the rest of the country, and in some ways that will be unfair. I know for a fact that the attitudes expressed in those remarks are far from universal in that demographic.
But this is how one man, Mitt Romney, unfettered and unchained, thinks about them, saying the things that he doesn’t dare to say on the campaign trail.
Here’s another excerpt for your viewing pleasure:
– Jay Bookman