Democrats are familiar with gaffes: Joe Biden practically redefined the term on the campaign trail in 2010. But Republican candidate Mitt Romney took the cake in a video released online Monday night. Romney stated that 47% of Americans believe that they are victims, “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
He goes on to say, “My job is not to worry about those people … I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Romney uses the 47% figure from a recent report by the Tax Policy Center, which found that 46.4% of Americans did not pay income tax in 2011. And in a news conference at a fundraiser Monday night, Romney poorly attempted to explain his statements, saying that he was speaking off the cuff, and his comments were not “elegantly stated.”
More than that, they are not true. Romney’s assertion that nearly half the electorate is supported by the government through some fault of their own is not only offensive, it doesn’t reflect the data he was referencing. The New York Times’ “Economix” blog goes behind Romney’s statements to the numbers, and finds that roughly half of the households who didn’t pay income tax in 2011 couldn’t pay it – because they were too poor. The rest of the 46% is made up of households using deductions and tax credits, most of which was support for seniors and low-earning families.
Troublingly, Romney seems to be insulting a slew of potential voters with his statements. A map from the Tax Foundation shows that some of the states with the highest incidences of tax exemption are solidly conservative: Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Virginia are swing states, which Romney could need to win the election. If Romney is writing off half of the electorate, as the Obama campaign contends, it could prove fatal in November.
Mitt Romney’s condemnation of those who receive assistance from the government emphasizes his belief in personal responsibility, and if you’ll pardon the cliché, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. While personal responsibility is laudable and should be promoted in our society, it should go hand in hand with social responsibility. Though millennials are debating the role and scope of government in the 21st century, the import of social responsibility (both by institutions and by citizens) remains constant. Especially after the Great Recession, many Americans are not in the position they would like to be in, due to no fault of their own. They should not have to suffer or be labeled victims because of it.
However, Romney has done a favor for the electorate: he conveyed (however inelegantly) his thought process and strategy for winning, which he contends will focus on the 5% to 10% of voters in the middle who really matter. While there’s nothing wrong with targeting undecided voters, Romney’s explanation of his rationale provides insight into the way he views – and could run – the country.
It is evident that Romney wants to reward those who have done well for themselves – some of whom did so without help. And those who aren’t doing as well as they would like will be told, “Do better, because you won’t be receiving (and don’t deserve) any help.”
Furthermore, Romney clearly believes that the middle and lower classes – the majority of the 46% – are not paying enough taxes. It is not unreasonable to think that, if elected, Romney will ensure that all Americans will pay income taxes, even if they can’t afford it.
Romney’s America is one that prizes personal success over general well being. This moral judgment on struggling Americans is damaging to the fabric of our society, and promotes divisiveness instead of cooperation. Romney is exacerbating the extreme partisanship that divides our country, and places himself squarely against ideals of shared sacrifice and opportunity. He does not exemplify the ideals that millennials – and many Americans – share and look for in a president. After all, the saying does go: “united we stand, divided we fall.”