When Barack Obama made that unfortunate comment about bitter small-town Americans clinging to their God and their guns four years ago, I marveled at the candidate’s ability to pack so many unintended insults into a single sentence. (“The worst thing I’ve ever heard Obama say” was the low-key headline in Slate.)
Of course, Mitt Romney’s thoughts about the 47 percent of Americans who would supposedly rather mooch than work for a living is damaging for the same reason: Like Obama, Romney was caught telling the truth about how he sees those who lack the good sense to support him.
Only, Romney assumes they are no-account rather than misguided. And if you write off almost half of the citizens in the most exceptional country ever, isn’t what you have left only so-so?
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney is seen telling supporters at a May fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Fla., on a video posted by Mother Jones on Monday. “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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.”
Apparently, half of us were snoozing when God passed out grit, and have no dreams beyond the downy comfort of a cozy safety net. But Romney says he needn’t worry about these lost souls, electorally speaking.
“The president starts off with 48, 49 — he starts off with a huge number,’’ Romney told the donors, who expect to hear franker talk in these settings, and in this case got what they paid for. “These are people who pay no income tax, so our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. 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 man who grew up rich and then got richer, Romney seems to see himself as Germany to our Greece, punished for his superior habits by repeatedly having to bail out the rest of us. He accuses the president of class welfare, then explains why the “haves” deserve it and the have-nots don’t.
His view ignores that many of those who pay no federal income tax, but do pay payroll taxes, are working multiple jobs and not feeling quite the buzz that living off tuna and investment income gave him as a newlywed grad student. He also joked that he’d have an easier time getting elected if he were Latino. Questions, concerns, compliments?
How this convinces Americans that Romney understands the struggles of working people, or squares with his rhetoric about how the unemployed are good folks who have simply been let down by their government, or meshes with the fact that many of those who pay no federal income tax are elderly — and thus squarely in the demo that favors Romney more than any other — I really couldn’t say. And does this mean he thinks half of us didn’t build it, and couldn’t?
On Monday night, Romney told reporters that the snippets were not so different from his usual message on the campaign trail. But at a fundraiser, “people who are parting with their monies are very interested in knowing can you win or not,’’ he said, “and that’s what this was addressing.’’
Unlike Obama’s condescending remark about “bitter” small-towners, this is not the worst thing I’ve ever heard Romney say, or even the worst Romney remark in the last week; his accusation that our president sympathizes with the those who killed four Americans in Benghazi, not far from an al-Qaeda training camp, still holds that distinction.
Official Romney campaign scapegoat Stuart Stevens should take the rest of the night off, though; no one can say this one is on him.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s She the People blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.