47 Percent, Part 2

Earlier in the week I wrote about the increasing conservative complaint that too many Americans are mooching off the labors of genuine hard-working job creators. Well now Mitt Romney himself has extended this analysis to the ballot box, telling his big donors in a post-election conference call that the reason he lost was, essentially, that Barack Obama bought off those moochers with promises of free stuff. When the 47 percent video came out, I couldn't have been the only one who wondered just how many times he had delivered that riff; it seems unlikely it was the first and last time he said it. But now the election's over, and he isn't stopping. Romney seems appalled that Obama would be so diabolical as to pursue policies that were beneficial to people who then went to the polls to vote for him. It's worth quoting at length:

"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift," he said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008."

The president's health care plan, he added, was also a useful tool in mobilizing African American and Hispanic voters. Though Mr. Romney won the white vote with 59 percent, according to exit polls, minorities coalesced around the president in overwhelming numbers — 93 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics voted to re-elect Mr. Obama.

"You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you're now going to get free health care, particularly if you don't have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge," he said. "Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group."

Consider the implication of the repeated use of the word "gift," meaning something not that you have a right to expect your government to provide but something that it does out of the kindness of its heart, or perhaps something you didn't really deserve but it's giving you anyway. I doubt Romney would say that a strong military or a well-functioning court system, or heaven forbid the favorable tax treatment of investment income, are "gifts" that the government gives, but he does think of guaranteed health coverage this way, at least when it comes to those who aren't particularly wealthy. "Our strategy worked well with many people," Romney said, "but for those who were given a specific gift, if you will, our strategy did not work terribly well."

It's interesting to note that many of the things that people like Romney consider privileges, like health care, are in so much of the world considered rights, while some of the things they consider rights, like being able to spend $10 million to get your favored candidate elected, are privileges that by definition only the wealthy can enjoy. In any case, the condescension here is just incredible. People who voted for Romney, you see, did it because it was best for the country, while people who voted for Obama cared only about themselves.

It seems that Romney still doesn't get that voting isn't a commercial transaction. Yes, sometimes voters make a choice based on their own lives. If you're worried about whether you'll be able to get health insurance, and one candidate has already passed a law ensuring that you will be able to, while the other candidate promises to repeal that law, you have a direct and personal interest in the election's outcome. On the other hand, if one candidate spent a year heaping contempt on people like you–whether because you're gay, or Latino, or an urban dweller, or whatever–then even if you think his policies might not affect you too directly, you probably still won't vote for him.

But it's also possible to look at what the government has done for you and make a wider judgment about how the government is treating other people. Government gave me a student loan, and that enabled me to get an education–so that's something they should do for other people too. Government pays for my parents' health care, which is a good thing–and if we privatized that program, it could hurt a lot of people like them.

Of course, maybe Mitt Romney understands all this, but he was just telling his audience, in this case the wealthy donors who bankrolled his campaign, what they wanted to hear, which is that they're patriotic Americans, while people who vote for Democrats are despicable parasites. It wouldn't have been the first time.

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