What do Mitt Romney’s comments on that leaked video — in which he derided what we might call “the freeloading 47 percent” — tell us about what he really believes, and how he would govern?
Romney seemed to be saying that all of those who rely on federal benefits, or who don’t pay income taxes, “believe that they are victims,” think government “has a responsibility to care for them,” and will never be convinced that they should “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
It isn’t easy to parse what Romney said, because he seemed to be conflating three different categories: Those who don’t pay income taxes; those who rely on federal benefits; and the 47 percent who are locked in for Obama. But ultimately, when you cut through the noise, what Romney was really saying is that any kind of dependence on government is evidence of weakness and that those who are not paying income taxes are freeloading moochers off of those who do.
I don’t know if Romney believes this or not. But the fact that he’s claiming to believe this is what matters. He is adhering to a view of the social contract and government’s role in combatting the vagaries of fortune that is deeply unbalanced and out of step with mainstream American opinion. As Jim Tankersley points out, polling shows that a majority of independents endorse the idea that government should guarantee everyone a “food and a bed,” which is to say, they support the idea that government has a valid role in safeguarding Americans from the free market and the whims of bad luck. Multiple other polls have found overwhelming public support for keeping major elements of the safety net intact, and pluralities have even been supportive of the idea that government has a valid role guaranteeing health care for all Americans.
This isn’t to say Romney envisions no role for government along these lines. But as David Dayen argues, his comments reveal disdain for, or disinterest in, the very ideas underlying the social contract. David Brooks says Romney’s comments reveal a shift among Republicans away from the idea that “government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves” that is politically dangerous for them:
Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact....The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
This election will turn partly on who middle class Americans will trust more to truly defend their interests when the next president sets about the inevitable task of tackling the deficit and reforming entitlements. Either Romney believes that Americans are better off without any such entitlements, or that, well, Americans are simply not entitled to them. He is now subscribing to a set of beliefs that may thrill the GOP base but may seem dangerously out of whack to the middle of the country.
* The facts about Romney and the freeloading 47 percent: Glenn Kessler has a nice dive into the substance of Romney’s claims (or lack thereof). Key factoids:
Some 44 percent of those who do not pay income taxes are because they benefit from tax benefits aimed at the elderly, while another 30 percent benefit from tax credits for children or for the working poor...But not all of these people are automatically Obama supporters...eight of the top ten states with the lowest income-tax liability are the heart of Romney country — the deep south
* Romney as “sneering plutocrat”: Jonathan Chait:
The video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party. He believes that market incomes in the United States are a perfect reflection of merit.
* Romney campaign in turmoil: Must read: Philip Rucker has a barn burner on the turmoil, second-guessing, and finger-pointing gripping the Romney campaign as Republicans grapple with the question: Why isn’t Romney winning, given the bad economy? The bulk of the recriminations are focused on whether Romney erred by allowing Obama’s ads to define him during the summer, and by failing to tell a positive story about him. Of course, the alternative explanation may be that the Romney campaign’s theory of the race is flawed.
* Why Obama is winning: Jonathan Martin has an epic look at why Obama is winning despite terrible economic conditions. As always, Republicans are continuing to demand that the Romney campaign rethink its strategy from the bottom up, something that apparently isn’t going to happen.
* Obama allies hit Romney priorities: The Obama-allied Priorities USA Action is up with a new ad that hits Romney for prioritizing tax cuts for the rich in ways that will hurt the middle class, a spot that is particularly well timed, given yesterday’s leaked video.
* Romney trashes two-state solution: Still more secret video from Mother Jones shows Romney declaring mideast peace via a two-state solution to be “almost unthinkable,” despite declaring back in July that he supports the idea. Of particular interest is his claim that all we can do is “kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
* Romney renews pitch to female voters: The Romney campaign is out with a new ad featuring a mother telling her infant daughter that thanks to Obama’s policies, she’s entering a world in which she is already saddled with a share of the “Obama debt,” and in which millions of women are unemployed, thanks to Obama’s policies.
The Romney campaign has been saying for months now that female voters won’t be distracted by social issues and will cast their vote on the Obama economy, yet the gender gap remains.
* And Elizabeth Warren takes lead in third poll: A new Suffolk University poll finds Warren has pulled into a four point lead, 48-44, over Scott Brown in Massachusetts, a turnaround from May, though it remains within the margin of error. Two other polls have Warren leading.
One key finding from the Suffolk poll: Warren’s favorability rating has jumped to 52 percent, despite months of attacks designed to cast her as an elitist. The pollster theorizes that her convention speech may have enabled voters to connect Warren’s emphasis on the middle class with Bill Clinton and Obama;Warren’s challenge is to prevent Brown from winning 20 percent Dems, most of whom will vote for the president.