The more I think about Mitt Romney telling his fellow 1 percenters that 47 percent of their fellow Americans are in effect leeches content to live off the work of others, the more bothered I am by it. Most of those 47 percent are hard-working people struggling to raise families and build a life under conditions that Romney has never experienced, and the lack of empathy it reveals is disturbing.
His running mate, Paul Ryan, said yesterday that Romney had been “obviously inarticulate” in those statements, but as anybody who has seen the video can attest, quite the opposite is true. In expressing those views, Romney was far more natural and articulate than in almost any of his public appearances to date.
Romney is now trying to reverse the tables, citing a 1998 audiotape featuring Barack Obama.
“There’s a tape that came out today where the president’s saying he likes redistribution,” Romney said on Fox News. “I disagree. I think a society based upon a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that’s the wrong course for America, that will not build a stronger America, or help people out of poverty.”
Here’s that audio:
For those who can’t listen, Obama talks about a propaganda effort against the idea of government action, and he concedes that in some cases that criticism has been deserved, citing the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago school system as institutions “that have not been a model of good policy-making.”
“I think that what we’re going to have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all…. I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution — because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
Personally, I agree fully with Obama. When a poor kid goes to a public school financed by property taxes on homes that his family could never afford, that is an example of redistribution of wealth, “at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
When that same kid is given a free breakfast and lunch because her homelife is too dysfunctional to provide her adequate nutrition, that too is redistribution of wealth. When some 60 percent of American seniors rely on Medicaid to pay their nursing home bills because they’ve run through their own savings, that is a case of redistribution of wealth. When low-income students rely on federal Pell grants to help finance the college education that could lift them and their families out of that 47 percent, that is redistribution. And when unemployed workers — most of them people of pride and character displaced by forces much larger than themselves — are forced to turn to food stamps to feed their families and perhaps stave off foreclosure on their homes, well, that too is redistribution of wealth.
Although Romney likes to keep such discussions at a theoretical level — at the theoretical level there are no human consequences — his basic distaste for redistribution would have very practical consequences if he is elected president. He and Ryan have each proposed serious reductions in most of the programs outlined above, in part to make budget room for tax cuts for those who shared that $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton with him.
Romney’s decision to highlight the Obama tape above is being described by some in the press as an effort to change the subject, but it isn’t. It is the same issue being described in a slightly different fashion, and it’s a discussion that the American people need to hear and participate in.
– Jay Bookman