As much as Mitt Romney is criticized for dishonest rhetoric in his campaign, he was remarkably honest last night when he took the stage in an unusual late night press conference to explain and defend his remarks on the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax and won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Here’s the full video:
Rather than apologize for the remarks—which insult millions of Americans—he reiterated his view, calling this election “a question about the direction of the country”:
Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits, or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?
Romney said, “This is something I talk about a great deal in rallies and speeches … the president believes in a government-centered society, where government plays a larger and large role and provides more and more for the needs of individuals.”
I’m not sure that Romney can minimize the damage of his fundraiser comments by citing the other times he dismissed the less fortunate, but it is true that he routinely attacks President Obama for encouraging dependency, and regularly describes Obama’s supporters as reliant on government spending.
The infamous welfare ads, which falsely accused Obama of “gutting” the work requirement in Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), were powerful because they invoked this “us against them” mindset. “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work or wouldn’t have to train for a job, they would just send you your welfare check.” Juxtaposed against (white) working Americans, this sent a clear message: Obama is taking your money and giving it to them.
The same approach was used when Romney attacked Obama for cutting Medicare. In his ads, Romney accused Obama of “stealing” your hard-earned savings for the Affordable Care Act, a program for “his supporters.”
This innuendo mostly flew under the radar. But it was just three weeks ago when, ahead of the conventions, Romney gave an interview to USA Today in which he accused Obama of trying to “shore up his base” with more flexible TANF work requirements. “There’s no question in my mind," he said, "that the president’s action in this regard was calculated to build support for him among people he wants to have excited about his reelection, just as so many of the things he’s done were designed to try to shore up his base.” Romney sounded less venemous than he was in his fundraiser remarks, but that’s all; the sentiment is exactly the same.
As I said yesterday, I’m not sure whether these statements reflect Romney’s actual views. Politicians aren’t any more candid with donors than they are with ordinary voters, and might even be less so—when you’re trying to take money from a rich person, you’ll do what you can to cater to their views. This especially holds true for Romney, who can’t seem to tailor a single message to multiple audiences, and instead adopts the views of whichever crowd or group he’s speaking to.
What we can say, however, is that Republican elites are fully invested in a “makers” versus “takers” view of the world. So much so that they want Romney to run with this rhetoric, and make it a centerpiece of his campaign. Somehow, they’ve convinced themselves that they can win by using the “Southern Strategy” of division and resentment against one out of two people in this country.
Let's hope that if Romney loses in November, Republicans will see this for what it is: madness.