In 2000, George W. Bush ran a campaign of conservative compassion – calling himself “a uniter, not a divider.”
Flash forward 12 years and Republican presidential-nominee Mitt Romney is calling almost half the American populace lazy while dividing the nation between moochers and makers. The problem is Romney’s brush paints a broad indictment and doesn’t account for the millions of conservative Americans who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps while getting a helping hand from Uncle Sam.
While Romney talks a slick game of profits and deregulation, the average conservative American is still struggling to put food on the table. Ironically, the majority of the 47% dependent on the government reside in conservative states. In fact, eight out of 10 of the states whose residents pay the least in income taxes are red states. So who exactly are these 47%?
The Romney camp would love conservatives to assume they are minorities, unwed mothers, undocumented immigrants, etc. – seemingly foreign factions living off the contributions of responsible tax payers. But the truth is they are not. Of the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes, almost 30% pay payroll taxes; leaving approximately 18% who pay neither. And of that 18%, approximately 17% are either elderly or make less than $20,000 a year.
The real problem is that both Romney and the Republican Party are sorely out of touch with the average conservative voter. What gave rise to the Tea Party movement wasn’t a sense of entitlement or class warfare – it was anger. Anger not directed at minorities or those dependent upon the government, but at the government itself. Conservatives, like everyone else, were losing their jobs and struggling to put food on the table. Although they didn’t consider themselves to be, they were part of the 99%.
Romney can rant until he’s blue in the face about the makers-and-takers, but at the end of the day, conservatives care about solutions – not rhetoric. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, conservative columnist David Brooks hits the nail on the head:
“Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.”
Growing up, I was raised in a deeply conservative home and taught the values of hard work and personal responsibility. My father was a truck driver who could not always afford to put food on the table for his four children. He was more than responsible, often working weekends and graveyard shifts to make end’s meet – but sometimes it was not enough. He accepted charity when his family truly needed it in the form of food stamps, government housing and government-subsidized healthcare. My father understood that sometimes even the hardest working man needs a helping hand.
Conservatives like my father do not want life-long welfarees soaking the system. But what they do want is a safety net – a safety net like the one that put food on my family’s table when I was growing up and a safety net like the one that has provided me with basic affordable health care throughout my young-adult years. If Romney is ever to gain support and favor in the eyes of conservatives, he and his country-club privilegees need to cut the classist rhetoric and talk specifics about putting food back on the table and Americans back to work.