What Mitt Romney's 47-percent comment means.
By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich.
This video is significant in two ways.
First are the distortions. Romney says 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes. That’s literally true, except it’s misleading because it includes every retiree who hasn’t enough income to pay income taxes (most retirees), every poor and lower-income person who doesn’t have enough income to pay, and a few multi-millionaires (perhaps like Romney himself—we don’t know because he won’t release his tax returns), who don’t pay because of tax loopholes and tax-avoidance schemes. Moreover, just about all working Americans, regardless of income, pay federal payroll taxes. Everyone pays state and local sales taxes. And so on.
Romney also distorts reality by purposely mixing “entitlements” with “a sense of entitlement,” and lumps in all recipients of Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits into his 47 percent. Even though these programs are considered “entitlement” spending, their recipients are not undeserving; they don’t consider themselves entitled to handouts. They’ve paid into these insurance plans through their payroll taxes.
But the the most important revelation here isn’t Romney’s witting distortions. It’s his indignant condemnation of almost half the American electorate. A president is supposed to represent all of America, not just the 51 percent who elect him, and have a modicum of sympathy for the less fortunate among us.
Yet here is the real Mitt Romney—a fabulously wealthy financier, presumably speaking to other wealthy people (note the waiters scurrying about), with a passion we haven’t before seen in him — saying it isn’t his “job” to worry about Americans who he describes as “irresponsible,” who fail to take care of themselves, and whose neediness is presumably their own fault.
Some of us thought Romney was without core or principle, an empty suit that would say anything to be elected. But here, evidently, is the real Mitt—a man whose core principle is clearly on display, and articulated with deep conviction: social Darwinism—survival of the richest, the hell with those who need a helping hand.
In a subsequent news conference he attempted to make it sound as if he was talking here about political strategy, not social conviction. Watch and see for yourself.
By arrangement with Robert Reich.
Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.
Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.