Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What is the Underlying Point of Romney's 47 Percent Comment? Are You Sure You Know?

Ross Douthat of the NY Times (Source: Charlie Rose)

The important underlying point about Mitt Romney's 47 percent comment is that he appears to fundamentally support an earned existence rather than an entitled existence. To focus on the inaccuracy of the 47 percent number misses the point.

Ironically, despite the article by Ross Douthat (below), Romney not Obama has made the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election very transparent in terms of choice: big government versus small government; entitled existence versus earned existence. Interestingly, Michelle Obama in her speech at the DNC articulated her view of the American Dream in which Americans who work hard should be entitled to a decent existence. As the FDA observes, working hard likely only guarantees that one will get fatigued. Michelle Obama's DNC Speech

Do you think the video of Romney's fundraising dinner in May was actually known by Romney, and that this was his way of indirectly getting his message out?

Douthat makes a good point about Obama: "Barack Obama’s remarks in San Francisco in April 2008, when he characterized working class voters who were resistant to his charms as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion” and scapegoat immigrants because the economy has let them down." Apparently, a self-indulging, narrow comment; Romney's comment was simply inaccurate. Ideological Clash and the 47 Percent

Is Romney wrong for stating that “I’ll never convince [my fellow countrymen] that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,”? How can you convince someone to earn their existence if that innate value is not in them? Why condemn Romney for his honesty?

Douthat makes another good implicit point that the U.S. two party system limits electoral choice and ultimately the direction of the country. This limitation is something Americans need to think carefully about, especially in the context of the free market where there is near limitless choice. Why settle for a choice between A or B for the most important position in the United States?

Our Revolting Elites
By ROSS DOUTHAT (Source: NY Times)

Were Mitt Romney’s now-famous comments at a fundraising dinner in May — in which he appeared to write off 47 percent of Americans as self-pitying freeloaders with no self-respect — a window into the elusive “real Romney” and proof that his moderate-seeming façade has always been a sham?

Who could possibly know? Romney has built his career, in business and in politics, on telling people what they want to hear in order to persuade them to let him manage their affairs. This is a man who tried to get to the left of Ted Kennedy in their 1994 Senate race and to the right of Rick Perry in 2012. The idea that he would reveal his true political beliefs to a group of people he’s trying to flatter, cajole and spook into giving him more money may be appealing to his critics, but it isn’t necessarily convincing.

What these comments definitely tell us, though, is what Mitt Romney, master consultant, feels his “clients” in the Republican donor base want to be told about this election and what will inspire them to dig deep and give freely to his cause. Assuming those instincts are correct, his comments help illuminate the way many well-off Americans feel about their less-fortunate fellow countrymen – and it isn’t a pretty thing to see.

As many people have pointed out, Romney’s comments are a right-wing echo to what was previously the most famous leak from a fundraising event: Barack Obama’s remarks in San Francisco in April 2008, when he characterized working class voters who were resistant to his charms as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion” and scapegoat immigrants because the economy has let them down.

In both cases, a presidential candidate was speaking about poorer people to a room full of rich people; in both cases, he was pandering to those rich people’s fearful stereotypes about a way of life that they don’t understand or share.

For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money: They have it, other Americans don’t, and those resentful, entitled others might just have enough votes to wage class warfare and redistribute the donors’ hard-earned millions to the indolent and irresponsible.

For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars: They think they’ve built an enlightened society, liberated from archaic beliefs and antique hang-ups, and yet these Jesus freaks in flyover country are mobilizing to restore the patriarchy.

Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built. For Republicans, the dystopia is (inevitably) “Atlas Shrugged.” For liberals, it’s one part “Turner Diaries,” one part “Handmaid’s Tale.”

The way Obama and Romney employed these stereotypes are not actually equivalent. Both behind-closed-door comments were profoundly condescending, but only Romney explicitly wrote off the people he’s describing. As Slate’s William Saletan notes, Obama embedded his bitter- clingers characterization in a longer riff about why it’s important for Democrats to keep fighting for blue-collar votes. Romney’s remarks were more dismissive and therefore should prove more politically damaging: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he said, of millions of his fellow countrymen, and left it at that.

But set aside the short-term politics for a moment. What does it say about our culture that the people funding presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle seem to regard their downscale fellow countrymen as a kind of alien race, to be feared and condescended to in equal measure?

What does it say that rich Republicans are unable to entertain the possibility that Americans who depend on government programs during the worst recession in generations might have legitimate economic grievances?

What does it say that rich Democrats can’t fathom why working class Americans might look askance at an elite that’s presided over a long slow social breakdown and often regards their fundamental religious convictions as obstacles to progress?

What does it say that our politicians, in settings where they’re at least pretending to open up and reveal their true perspective, feel comfortable embracing the most self-serving elite stereotypes about ordinary citizens who vote for the other party?

Nothing good, I think. The current American story is one of polarization, with the two major parties sealed into their respective ideological bunkers, and stratification, with an elite that’s more isolated from the common life of the country it rules than at any time in recent history.

Both the right and left have provocative intellectual takes on how this new world came to be: Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and Chris Hayes’s “Twilight of the Elites,” respectively, are this year’s prime examples. But both takes are longer on description than prescription, and neither has much purchase on our politics.

However one tells the story, it’s an increasingly unhappy one. Yet on the evidence of what our leaders and would-be leaders say when we’re not supposed to be listening, there’s nobody in either party who cares enough to do anything to change it.

Question to Readers:

Do you that the American two-party federal electoral system is limiting political choice to the detriment of the country?


  1. "How can you convince someone to earn their existence if that innate value is not in them? Why condemn Romney for his honesty?"

    Anyone who so delusional to think that half the American electorate does not see the value in earning their existence is too dumb to run for president.

    1. Good point; maybe Presidential candidates should be required to take IQ tests?

      Perhaps Romney would respond that the 47% number was informal and casual.

      Does the U.S. President require a lot of brains? Apparently Reagan wasn't the swiftest person, but he had a strong cast around him.

    2. Romney doesn't care where the number came from, as long as he can distort its meaning for his own advantage.

      Reagan had Hollywood-power, and I think he had a knack for telling people whatever they wanted to hear. Whereas Carter wanted Americans to face up to their shortcomings, Reagan just catered to people's greed.


Thank you for sharing your perspective.