Forty-seven is the big number from the secretly taped video that bruised the candidate this week – but who else did he offend?
While the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax got most of the flak in Mitt Romney’s remarks to a wealthy clique of his supporters – now captured for posterity thanks to a hidden video camera – let’s not overlook the remaining 53%, many of whom also received flesh wounds and collateral damage from Romney’s gaffe-operated machine-gun.
Once the initial shock from Romney’s comments passes, Latinos, women and Jewish voters will join senior citizens, members of the US military, compassionate conservatives and the less well-off as among those wounded by the Republican presidential candidate’s potshots. At least Dick Cheney only ever hit one person while out hunting. Romney, while on the chase for donations, managed to wing much of the US electorate, in one way or another.
Here’s a gaffe-by-gaffe guide to Romney’s self-immolation.
There are 47% who are … dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims … These are people who pay no income tax … 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.
The media’s fact-checking machines have roared into life and churned out the many obvious flaws in Romney’s statement: that the 47% he alludes to includes senior citizens depending on social security and Medicare, the working poor, members of the US military, and the out-of-work, as well as those who do pay taxes in the form of federal payroll taxes, state and municipal taxes, not to mention the national and local sales taxes that are impossible for most individuals to evade.
Perhaps the oddest part of Romney’s formulation is that these people somehow form an inevitable voting bloc for Obama. In the case of older retired voters – who don’t pay income tax on social security and receive generous healthcare benefits from the state – that seems unlikely, given that national polls have the over-65s as one of Mitt Romney’s strongest bases of support.
What of the other parts of the 47% could Mitt Romney have cut off to spite his face-time with fundraisers?
• Those unemployed or in difficulties in the course of this devastating recession, who Romney has been trying to woo with his promises of jobs, find themselves labelled as spineless.
• Students, both because they typically don’t pay federal income tax on account of low earnings and because many of them are also recipients of low-cost government grants or loans.
• The working poor, such as a family of four earning a household total of $40,000. They may not have to pay federal income tax, thanks to earned income tax credits, but they can hardly be accused of either believing they are victims or of not taking responsibility for their lives.
• Members of the US military serving in war zones, who are not required to pay federal income tax on their pay and benefits, and are directly employed by the US government, may not be happy at the thought they have a victim mentality.
Israel and Jewish voters
We have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.
Another group of voters that Mitt Romney has had trouble reaching – in spite of repeated attempts – is Jewish voters. Poll after poll shows Obama with a wide margin in support, as Democrats have traditionally enjoyed. But a recent Gallup poll published by Buzzfeed Politics put it at 70% for Obama and just 25% for Romney.
The relationship of American Jews to Israel is a complex and multi-faceted one, but it’s hard to imagine many shades of Jewish opinion finding something to celebrate in Romney’s remarks on the Israel-Palestine issue: in essence, shrugging it off.
The hawks – who would approve of Romney sabre-rattling remarks regarding Iran – would prefer more full-throated support from a American presidential candidate. But the majority, especially those who favour a two-state solution, would be unhappy with Romney’s remarks that “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish,” having rattled off a weak series of objections, and appearing to think that the West Bank borders on Syria.
The idea that a US president would merely punt on the most difficult issue in modern geopolitics – which is what kicking the ball down the field means – is among the most extraordinary remarks to come out of these tapes.
Romney’s failure to win more support from women voters is the over-riding reason for his failure to overtake Barack Obama in the opinion polls since becoming the GOP nominee. The Florida tapes suggest why: when prompted by a discussion with the wealthy donors, Romney offers only his wife Ann as evidence of his appeal to women voters.
And even then, Romney makes what sound like cynical remarks about his wife’s role in the political process: “We use her sparingly now, in case people get tired or attack,” he says, although he assures the room that she will be on the campaign trail frequently.
Mitt’s other meta-analysis again suggests a cold sense of calculation when speaking about his wife: “We had a person named Hillary Rosen who attacked her and that made Ann more visible to the American people, which I think was helpful and gave her a platform she wouldn’t have had otherwise.” How gallant.
The only other issue that women voters might be interested in, it would appear from this tape, is The View, the ABC daytime talkshow. Although Romney counsels The View, aside from one conservative – Elizabeth Hasselbeck – the other hosts are described as “women who are sharp-tongued”.
Had [my father] been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.
A joke it may have been but Romney’s remarks can’t have helped him gain ground with yet another group he is struggling to win over: Latinos. “The insult of all insults, Mitt Romney says if he was Latino he would win the presidential election, as if being Latino would have given him any advantage to win the White House,” was one of many sharp responses, that one coming from Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra.
Romney’s joke came on the same day his campaign was boasting of a new and high-profile attempt to target Hispanic votes, including an appearance before the US Hispanic chamber of commerce.
As with his remarks about women voters, Romney’s comments suggest that identity rather than policies are what win elections, which may explain his personal shape-shifting. What he fails to understand is that his policies, especially on immigration and his risible “self-deportation” idea, are what is holding him back with Latinos, rather than his ethnic identity.
Compassionate conservatives do exist and many of them have been up in arms about the thrust of Romney’s 47% remark – an “imperious canard”, as the American Conservative described it.
These are otherwise reliable Republican voters, including some Christians and evangelicals, who may find themselves less likely to support or even vote for a GOP presidential ticket headed by Romney.
What defence there has been of Romney’s remarks has claimed, without evidence, that those in the 47% don’t necessarily define themselves as such. That has to be true to a point – who wants to agree that they are pathetic victims? – but here Mitt Romney has done the job for them: he has told them that they are victims, that they are feckless, and furthermore that he does not care for them. Romney has, in short, labelled them with a badge of shame.
Rusty Reno, editor of First Things – the conservative religious journal founded by Richard John Neuhaus – dismantled Romney’s “absurd” remarks with a quiet ferocity. Sketching out the life of a family of a man earning $12 an hour in Omaha, Nebraska, Reno numbered the entitlements a family of modest means required “for their survival, to say nothing of any opportunity to advance”.
The modern welfare and entitlement state is a mess, he concluded: “But it’s historically, intellectually, and morally stultifying to imagine that this mess is somehow unnecessary, that it is the result of the laziness or irresponsibility of working people and the wicked plots of collectivist liberals.”
Writing in the American Conservative, Rod Drier commented on Reno’s criticism: “I thought I was the only theocon Romney had lost, or just about lost, with his 47% talk. Guess not.” Drier described Romney’s remarks as “conservatism of the heartless,” and that they may have revived economics “as a pressing moral concern for religious conservatives”.
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