Secret video recordings of comments made by Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser are so appalling that it's hard to figure out where to even begin analyzing them. I guess the best way is to look at the three main parts.
First there is the Republican presidential nominee's declaration that 47% of the American people will vote for Barack Obama no matter what because they are "dependent on government" and believe, "that they are victims ... that government has the responsibility to care for them ... that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing." As far as Romney is concerned, his "job is not to worry about those people," since he'll "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
What stands out most starkly here is the abject contempt Romney feels for such a large number of his fellow citizens. Like far too many conservatives, Romney refuses to accept the possibility that anyone who votes liberal can be as hard-working, responsible, freedom-loving, and productive as his fellow right-wingers. Not only does this conviction cause them to often play fast and loose with the facts — e.g., of the 46% of Americans who didn't pay income taxes in 2011 (the group to which Romney was referring), only half were excepted because they didn't earn enough income, while the other half simply took advantage of various deductions and exemptions — but it leads them to some troubling leaps of logic. As far as he and those who think like him are concerned, the people who disagree with the conservative position on economic questions aren't simply ideologically misled or factually wrong, but are instead — by the inherent nature of the views they hold — guilty of possessing serious character flaws. This, in turn, disqualifies them from meaningful consideration in the forum of public affairs, which explains Romney's statement that his job is "not to worry about those people." Such animus, especially when so intensely felt, borders on being a form of outright bigotry.
Besides, if Romney was well-versed in American history, he would understand that the Founding Fathers were by no means inherently opposed to interventionist economic policies (see my March editorial on that subject). Just as significantly, he would be able to find countless spokesmen for the progressive cause who explained our reasoning with an insight and eloquence of which Romney is utterly incapable. Perhaps the best among these was the one stated by President Franklin Roosevelt back in 1944, near the end of World War II, when he devoted a passage of his State of the Union message to an ideological formulation subsequently dubbed the Economic Bill of Rights. In light of its relevance as a rebuttal to Romney's position, it deserves — scratch that, needs — to be read in full:
"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens."
Romney's derision for the millions of liberal and left-of-center Americans who will vote against him was matched by his equally disturbing assumptions about Latinos:
"My dad, as you probably, know was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and, uh, had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico ... I mean I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."
While his defenders will no doubt dismiss this comment as merely being an attempt at humor, this "joke" is a case study in that old axiom about how comedy can expose the unspoken perceptions held by those who use it. When Romney claims that he would have been better off as a Latino, he insultingly assumes that Hispanic voters would blindly support any candidate who happens to share their ethnic background, regardless of his or her qualifications or ideological convictions. Even worse, he minimizes the consequences of that racism which continues to worsen the lives of Hispanic Americans, from the racial profiling practiced on the streets of Arizona and the disproportionate poverty in which Latinos are mired to the prevailing notion that Hispanics are "less American" than the rest of us (for more on that, see this incident which occurred at Romney's own convention only a couple of weeks ago).
Finally, Romney reminisced about a visit to a Chinese factory back when he was still CEO of Bain Capital (Bain could not say whether this factory was owned by one of the companies in which they would later invest). After recalling how the plant employed 20,000 young women by crowding them into dormitory style housing, and how the factory itself was surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire, Romney claimed that the people there actually embraced these working conditions, and that indeed the enclosure was meant to keep prospective laborers out rather than the current workers inside. The moral of this anecdote, Romney concluded, was summed up by "the Bain partner I was with" when he "turned to me and said, you know, 95% of life is settled if you are born in America."
This passage is offensive on two levels. The first and most obvious is the degree to which it underscores Romney's role in the outsourcing of American jobs that was so prevalent during his own big business career. More significant, however, is the manner in which it dismisses the suffering being endured by so many Americans today. Most thoughtful and sensitive people would agree that life in a developed country is vastly superior to that in an under-developed nation, and that as such we should thank our lucky stars to have been born American. To go from that point, however, to Romney's assertion — i.e., that this means "95% of life is settled if you are born" in America, and by implication that we should somehow minimize or be less outraged by those economic injustices and crippling inequalities that do indeed exist — is not just glib, it's unforgivably callous. There is real hardship in America today, as millions of the unemployed struggle to find work after it evaporated thanks to Bush's economic policies and millions more struggle to make ends meet with the insufficient compensation offered by their current jobs. Before these remarks were made public, one might have argued that Romney didn't "get it" because his affluent background made him out of touch. Now it's impossible to believe that his failure to understand the problems facing so many Americans is anything other than willful.
I won't speculate here as to whether these comments will damage Romney's bid for the presidency. All that needs to be observed at this time is that, more than ever before, they reinforce the manner in which the choice to be made by the American people seven weeks from today will be an especially historic one. Whether the majority of our electorate responds to these comments with applause, contempt, or indifference will speak volumes the political direction in which our nation is headed. After all, what will it say about our country if we are willing to elect a president who, as Obama's campaign manager accurately pointed out, is willing to "disdainfully write off half the nation."