Hey, here’s an idea. Mitt Romney should begin the first presidential debate this way: “My fellow Americans – except, of course, for you people out there who are mooching slackers. My fellow Americans – except for nearly half of you, those of you who just want to live off the government dime and refuse to take personal responsibility for yourselves . . .”
Seriously, he should talk that way in public. Because that’s clearly the way he talks in private.
Turns out that an attendee at a May 17 Romney fundraiser decided to shoot some video during the candidate’s private remarks to the assembled millionaires at a home in Boca Raton. The video went viral late yesterday, courtesy of the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, which confirmed its authenticity. And Team Romney is not contesting its authenticity. So here we have Romney in the raw, telling donors in his rarefied world what he really thinks of nearly half his fellow Americans:
“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 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 . . . And so 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 lot of voters feel they still don’t know the real Romney. Those comments should help provide some insight.
Millions of middle class people are leaning toward voting for President Obama in November, and I doubt that they view themselves as parasitic government dependents. I doubt that they want the government to provide them with food and housing. I suspect they would dispute any suggestion that they don’t take responsibility for their own lives.
Yet Romney insulted them. He can’t win this election unless he convinces a big chunk of middle-class Obama supporters to switch sides, but stereotyping them is surely not the way to do it.
Similarly, Romney needs to do very well among white seniors and non-college working-class whites (hello, Ohio). But guess what: millions of seniors and blue-collar workers are buoyed by the government safety net. They get Social Security and disability and unemployment assistance, sometimes they get food stamps – and I bet they consider those income streams to be necessities, not handouts. I doubt they view themselves as government-dependent “victims” who refuse to “care for their lives.”
All digital-era politicians can learn a lesson from this episode: Never assume, even in a private fundraiser, that the cameras and recorders are off. Obama certainly learned that lesson in the spring of ’08, when he was outed for making elitist and condescending remarks, at a San Francisco fundraiser, about the “bitter” small-town folks who “cling” to guns and religion. He took a lot of heat for that, and rightly so. But what he said four years ago is not equivalent to what Romney said. Obama was actually trying to reach out to the bitter clingers (see the full context of his remarks), while Romney clearly indicated that he was writing off the freeloading 47 percent.
Indeed, David Brooks, the center-right columnist, finds the unscripted Romney to be quite revolting; as someone quipped on Twitter last night, “If you lose Brooks, you lose middle America.” Here’s some of what Brooks offers us this morning:
“(Romney’s) comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare? . . . The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees . . . (A)s a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney. Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not – some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign.”
I’ll cut to the chase: Voters want to feel good about a candidate; they like it when a candidate aspires to be the president of all the people. But voters are ill-inclined to support a candidate who voices blanket contempt for virtually half the people, tarring them as freeloaders. Ronald Reagan never talked that way. George W. Bush, particularly in his compassionate-conservative phase, never talked that way.
By the way, Mitt personally responded to the video last night. He said that his fundraising remarks were “not elegantly stated.” To which I say, forget elegance. This raw glimpse of the real Romney, riffing to his rich peers, is far more valuable. And it again prompts the key question:
Is this guy ever going to stop digging?
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