Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The 53 Percent

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the 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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean the President starts off with 48, 49 [percent.] He starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do  is convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.
Governor Mitt Romney, 17 May, 2012.
While this is supposed to give us a glimpse into the wealthy Romney's contempt for Americans at the lower end of the income scale, it's really, when viewed in its entirety, simply a matter of overexplaining the answer to a question. It's long been considered a given that most Americans have some sort of more or less ironclad partisan affiliation, primarily Republican or Democrat, and that most people have pretty much already made up their minds as to whom they are going to vote for this November. It's a large part of the reason why the state of Washington, where I live, is pretty much an advertising-free zone, as far as the national campaigns are concerned. Washington is already considered to be in the Blue column, long before any of the voting actually starts. (We should be receiving our ballots late this week or early next.)

To the degree that this hurts the Republican Party, it's because it plays into the commonly understood "for us or against us" narrative of good and evil that has become associated with the GOP. Romney places himself and the Republican Party in general in opposition to a large block of voters who are portrayed as supporting the President for their own selfish and immoral reasons. This narrative has been around for a while now. Governor Romney is not the first person to portray Democratic voters as, basically, parasites. Nearly all of the Republican Party's appeal to Libertarians has been about "reducing government" through cutting the services that government provides to those seen as unworthy. When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal complained about "something called volcano monitoring" in a response to a State of the Union address, he wasn't decrying disaster preparedness - after all, where would southern Louisiana be without a robust Federal disaster readiness and response plan? The citizens of New Orleans don't pay out-of-pocket for the levy system that protects them. Instead he was pointing out monitoring rare hazards that mainly occur in Blue states - Alaska is the only Red state with active vulcanism - as a waste of funds better spent on deserving Republicans. Governor Romney's statement should not have taught anyone anything new. If anything, it merely illustrates that this particular Republican stereotype has some basis in fact, at least among donors. (One of the things that writing checks buys you is the privilege of having your opinions parroted back to you.) Which is only to be expected in a polarized electorate in which people on either side of the divide often look across it and see deliberate wrongdoing.

On whether or not this offers a glimpse into Romney's soul, I'm skeptical. After all, a large part of the job of a campaigning politician is telling people what they want to hear. Many people feel that Romney does this TOO well; he's commonly viewed as slick and inauthentic. While there seem to be people in both parties who regard this as the real Mitt Romney standing up, a good politician is almost always pandering. Wealthy people don't like to see themselves as greedy, or harming the truly indigent, any more than anyone else does. If you're telling them that you're going to lower their taxes by cutting programs, appearing to concede that the recipients are genuinely needy seems like a bad plan. So regardless of Romney's actual thoughts or plans on the matter, it made political sense for him to cast Obama voters as irresponsible as opposed to either unlucky or the inevitable casualties of changing economic conditions.

Oddly, little time has been spent on the idea that Romney's message betrays a fundamental weakness in the Party's public face. Romney is pretty much saying that: "The message of lower taxes is all I've got. If that doesn't sway them, we may as well write them off, because I got nothin'." While there are admittedly a large number of single issue voters in the United States, banking a presidential election on a single idea - that of lowering taxes - seems to be a remarkable gamble.

By the same token, Romney's statement effectively reserves electoral "thoughtfulness," even if it is sometimes based on emotion, to "the five to ten percent in the center." You'll note that this doesn't include Republican partisans any more than it does Democratic ones. This is part of the reason why the label of independent is so highly sought after - the understanding that these are the voters who act more on thought than on knee-jerk partisanship.

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