Mitt Romney

Romney Was Wrong, but So Are His Critics

There are plenty of voters who believe they can get something for nothing.


As you've no doubt heard, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was secretly recorded conflating some conservative arguments into a single clumsy talking point, one that is both factually and ideologically inaccurate.

When Romney says he believes that 47 percent of voters don't pay income tax, "believe that they are victims," think "government has a responsibility to care for them" and will never "take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he is confusing the average voter with the average Democratic National Convention speaker. Most Americans, no matter what party they're in, do not aspire to be parasites, despite the best efforts of their elected representatives.

But Romney's remarks compelled critics to forward the equally preposterous claim that government dependency doesn't affect elections at all.

To begin with, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that increases in dependency and entitlements do matter. If handouts were irrelevant, politicians wouldn't promise to relieve people of their burdens—from student loans to mortgages. They wouldn't hand out ethanol subsidies or corporate tax breaks or union bailouts.

Take welfare. Yes, welfare increases have a lot to do with the serious downturn—and also plenty to do with an administration that believes it's more moral to put people on the dole than get them off. And about 110 million Americans received some form of welfare benefit in 2011. As The Washington Examiner reported this week, a Congressional Research Service report found that the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps has doubled since President Barack Obama suspended work requirements in welfare reform.

Many among these 110 million Americans—many there through no fault of their own—will vote to protect welfare.

Then there are taxes. Riddle me this: If government is, as I often hear, the arbiter of fairness, the engine of economic opportunity and the guardian of equality, why are fewer and fewer people offering alms? As the Tax Policy Center points out, in 2010, 41 percent of tax returns filed had no income tax liability—which represents more than 58 million income tax filers. Yes, the complexity of our technocratic tax code, built by both parties, has a lot to do with who pays and who doesn't. The vast majority of those without any income tax liability aren't mooching at all.

But that's not the entire point.

In 1990, approximately 21 percent of returns had no tax liability—half the number we see today. The median income of nonpayers has increased by 40 percent over the past decade, while government has nearly doubled its budget. Many feel free to vote to expand government disconnected from the burden and cost. Someone else—perhaps at some other time or maybe in some other bracket—will deal with the cost. No doubt, this isn't the driving motivation of most voters, but it matters.

A new Gallup poll finds that, by a 54-39 percent margin, voters claim that government is trying to do too much, as opposed to not doing enough. Yet Obama—if we concede for a moment that mainstream media have it right—is winning. Winning with a campaign focused predominately (when not talking about Romney's shortcomings) on the idea that Washington should reallocate wealth to those fleeced by this terribly unfair system.

It is improbable that most Obama voters cast a ballot with the expectation that government is going to shrink. It is far more probable that many of the president's voters believe that reallocating personal wealth, rather than growing national wealth, is what makes an economy strong and gives them a better shot at prosperity.

So though Mitt Romney's ham-fisted contention was wrong, it doesn't erase a corrosive dynamic in American politics. There are plenty of voters who believe they can get something for nothing. Plenty.

NEXT: Get the Scoop on the Zombie Drug Responsible for That Feeling of Impending Doom

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  1. One more time! C’mon. HIT IT HARDER!

    Is someone keeping a running tally of these, as compared to the posts on, say, the melt-down of the middle east?

    I know they’ve had more posts on one edited comment by Romney than they have on the much more substantive exploration of Obama’s career at the Examnier. Because so far, we’ve had zero posts on that.

    1. 47 percent is the New Manhattan Mosque.

    2. I’m more concerned about the soon to be 3rd Sino-Japanese War, myself.

      1. Not to worry HM, Obama sent Panetta over and he smoothed things over.

        And both China and Japan agreed that a couple extra billion from the export bank will be sufficient to keep them from doing anything for the next month and a half.

        Problem solved!

      2. I’ve been wondering about the lack of coverage of that, which couldn’t help but drag us in if it goes hot.

        1. which couldn’t help but drag us in if it goes hot.

          I don’t see why. We just give the Chinese whatever they want. Problem solved!

      3. Yeah, amazingly most Americans have no idea what’s going on there, with the 2nd and 3rd largest economies in the world about to destroy each other over a rocky island full of goats.

      4. If Mitt Romney were president, he could just buy the disputed islands himself and let one of his sons govern them.

    3. RC – it gets harder and harder to take a blog seriously when their rageboner for this non-event rivals that of MSNBC.

      Junior varsity all the way.

  2. You know what I want to hear?

    Every fucking editor and reporter’s pensive analysis of the significance of Mitt Romney’s 47% comment.

    Because it is clearly the most fucking important fucking gaffe in this entire fucking campaign!

    1. It’s not even a gaffe.

      Just because the Ministry of Propaganda repeats it as fact doesn’t make it true.

    2. Actually, it is a significant gaffe. While I certainly don’t agree with the spin that Romney’s “47%” comment somehow means that he doesn’t care about nearly half of Americans, it’s certainly pretty significant that he would disparage that many people as moochers and parasites. And the effort at Fox News to create a similar embarrassment for Obama with a “leaked” 1998 video was hilarious and pathetic.

      Not that this whole scandal is going to change my vote. I’m going with Johnson, but if I were forced to choose between Obama or Romney, I’d certainly vote for Romney.

  3. So many posts, so little sarcasm.

  4. You know, not every word that comes out of Mitt Romney’s mouth is reason for the press to morph into Encyclopedia Brown. The basic gist of what Romney said is correct: too many people are dependent. He used one dramatic statistic that sort of bolsters his case if you don’t look too hard. Obama does this all the freaking time, and we don’t have the “fact-checking” SWAT teams out to give him the cavity search.

    Honestly, are too few people dependent on government? So, WTF are we doing sitting around meditating on this one comment as though it is particularly illustrative of the evil that is Romney?

  5. yaaaawwwwwnnnnnn

  6. I’d bet a good portion of those 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes are in that situation because of either Republican-sponsored tax breaks or Republican-supported tax breaks. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have one or the other of the two major candidates castigate his own party for its prior role in creating America’s problems?

  7. “Most Americans, no matter what party they’re in, do not aspire to be parasites, despite the best efforts of their elected representatives.”

    So does this mean that Libertarians will no longer squeal about the parasitism of Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries?

  8. New protest sign for Election Day:

    We Are the 53 Percent!

  9. Most Americans, no matter what party they’re in, do not aspire to be parasites,

    Sure, most don’t, but a significant fraction do.

    Check the rollover from unemployment benefits to SocSec disability, if you doubt me.

  10. At least Harsanyi had a slightly different take on this well-worn topic. I always appreciate an “everyone is a moron” approach to things.

  11. “Most Americans, no matter what party they’re in, do not aspire to be parasites, despite the best efforts of their elected representatives.”

    As recently as ten years ago, I would never have even dreamed of questioning the accuracy of this assertion. Now, I’m not nearly so sure.

  12. “…by 54-39 percent margin, voters claim that government is trying to do too much, as opposed to not doing enough.”

    Almost 40%…. This is dreadful. But the number seems about right considering the present dependency culture and the economic malaise (err, ‘recovery’ for the apologists).
    As an aside, it’s really getting tiresome to hear rightwinger talk-show blowhards continue to warn about impending socialism.
    The US is a socialized democracy, has been for a long time. Socialism’s boogeyman came out of the closet many decades ago. One could argue, with justification, that it’s been a hair short of century. Pick your metaphor — pregnancy, virginity, alive or dead, it’s boolean. “Obama is leading us to socialism…” Blah, blah, blah… What did these folks do, just wake up? Yuh, and Reagan was going to abolish cabinet positions and agencies. Instead he added them.
    But problem-solving makes for boring talk-shows. And it’s hard to articulate a roadmap for undoing this mess. So instead, they whine that the other guy is more socialistic than your guy, or more pregnant, or more whatever.
    It’s as simple minded as the establishment left who hated Bush, while boring us to death with ‘yuh-buts’ now theat they’re presented with Obama’s mimicry. Children clutching to their favorite security blanket, favoring it based on their preference of blue or red coloring.
    “We’re headed to socialism!” Headed? Can these clowns open their eyes?

  13. Thank you very much

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