Mitt Romney’s statements about 47% of Americans thinking of themselves as "victims" have been portrayed as yet another disastrous gaffe. Opinion is shortsighted, however, and to make for good headlines, pundits exploit fatalism. Instead this is a significant turning point for Romney. As his USA Today Op-Ed piece displays, he is transforming a "slip-up" into a refined message: free enterprise and traditional values will fix the economy. When the dust settles, Romney may come out stronger than ever, poised to storm the debates and dethrone Obama. The Obama presidency has failed. It has failed in clearly messaging its policies and the rationale behind them. Likewise, up until now, Romney has been incapable of articulating a sensible economic message. That may have just changed.
Just to be clear, Mitt Romney’s statements at the hedge-fund playboy’s symposium were misleading and far from accurate. The 47% that he claims pay no taxes and live off of government subsidies include students, the elderly and the recently unemployed. In fact, as the Hamilton Project illustrates, over the course of the average worker's life, they will have paid income tax, illustrated by the fact that 84% of middle-aged workers had income tax liabilities in 2007. Furthermore, Romney’s "lucky duckies" do pay other taxes, such as state, local and excise tax. Clearly he has mischaracterized the reality behind the numbers, which is no big surprise, as that’s what politicians are paid to do. Here’s the catch: the recession has inflated that number.
Enter Romney with a newly-honed message: government intervention has failed because only free enterprise can provide the necessary solutions. Thus, the government frustrates recovery and makes people dependent in the process. Proof? Forty-seven percent of people do not pay income tax and rely on government support, and this number has been rising. Obama has failed. One has only to look around. People are suffering. The middle class is being bled dry and family incomes are falling. Compounding these issues, a global slowdown is now affecting corporate profits. The president’s initiatives, such as the stimulus package appear to have been hollow and ineffective. Worse still, Obama has yet to articulate anything clear regarding economic policy. Is more evidence necessary?
With that in mind, Romney has jumped at another opportunity; to construe government intervention as a violation of revered national values, such as hard work and personal responsibility. Not only are these values essential to our identity, they are the very foundation of our national pride. An attack on these, by creating more government dependency, is an attack on the country, regardless of the fact that they do not simply equate to sound economic policy. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has done an exceptional job at mutilating sound economic policy. As a result, Romney can now target unsuccessful policies, as well as condemn the assault on American values — a powerful one-two combination aimed at the head and the heart.
Thus the tragedy of the recession continues to unfold; thus Mitt Romney’s message resonates. There has been much speculation over whether Mitt Romney will lose the votes of the 47%, but the data suggests otherwise. Most low-income voters vote Democrat anyway, and it is safe to assume that those who vote Republican do so for other reasons. Instead, the gauntlet will remain with the independent voters and now include those who have fallen into the 47% due to the recession. Romney’s polished and intelligible message has a greater chance of meeting their demand for action than did his previously confused communications. And as our president moonlights on David Letterman, remaining ever murky and painfully ineffective, Romney’s presentation of a clear alternative may just win voters over.
Ultimately, the question as to whether Romney’s free enterprise claims actually provide solutions is doubtful. Since there is a lack of general demand, investors have no appetite for the risks associated with job creation, thus the government must stimulate the economy. The stimulus package failed because it was not large enough. Sadly, Obama’s lack of leadership has prepared the stage for his own downfall. After the 47% comments, Romney has a perfected message moving into the debates. He can now effectively provide a clear alternative: free enterprise and traditional values. Perhaps this new message is the tipping point. Perhaps Obama’s time is ending, and unhappier days are yet to come.