Election 2012

Will Americans Think They're Romney's "47 Percent"? Or One of the "53 Percent"?

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Mitt Romney

The truthfulness of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment has been ably dissected elsewhere, not least of all by Matt Welch. Republicans are every bit as guilty as Democrats of breeding dependency on the state — not least of all through their catering to relatively well-off seniors with promises of Social Security and Medicare, forever (and damn the fiscal torpedoes!), and through corporate handouts to favored businesses. But I'm not as convinced as some of my colleagues that the recorded fund-raiser speech published by Mother Jones is a sure-fire disaster for Romney. It could be. But I think it depends on whether Americans who listen to that 47 percent rhetoric ultimately decide that it's they who are being knocked, or the deadbeat next door.

Leave aside the reality of the can-barely-slip-a-rubber-check-between-them policies Mitt Romney and Barack Obama favor. Rhetoric is often more important than reality, and the two parties are selling starkly contrasting rhetoric. The image the Republicans relentlessly sold at their convention was one of immigrants boot-strapping themselves to success, while the Democrats obligingly tied themelves to government programs that, they tell us, people just can't live without. Yeah, they both actually offer unaffordable goodies to their loyalists in the long-established bread-and-circuses mold. But brand differentiation really does matter.

And there is a lot of resentment in this country of people who are perceived as not carrying their own weight, even by those who are just as guilty themselves. One of the great ironies about the Tea Party movement is the extent to which many of its supporters fervently favor Medicare while calling for fiscal restraint — a bit of cognitive dissonance worthy of a chuckle all-around, but which could work to Romney's favor in this latest kerfuffle.

The 47/53 divide is a lousy measure of who is really an undeserving dependent on state handouts, but whether or not it actually hurts Romney will depend on whether the united welfare queens of America perceive a dig at themselves or a bold statement of truth. Watch the polls over the next week.