When the “47 percent” video first hit, there was a question as to whether this was the “real Romney,” or someone pandering to the prejudices of the Republican donor class. If you stepped away from the passion of moment, you could easily see a scenario where Romney felt that it was in his best interest to adopt another bit of right-wing rhetoric, for the sake of cash and support.
Then again, by that point it was more than clear that the Republican Party had been infected with a Randian mania. It wasn’t—and isn’t—hard to find conservatives who attack the mass of Americans as “takers” who rob the “makers” of their rightful wealth. Indeed, this was Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s central message until he was chosen for the national stage. And given the constituency for this ideology—wealthy (white) hedge fund managers and assorted rich people—it’s possible that Mitt Romney had also adopted this view of the world.
Well, if his remarks to donors this evening are any indication, the “real Mitt Romney” is the man who attacked a huge swath of America as lazy and undeserving. In a conference call with supporters, leaked to the press, he explained President Obama’s election win as the inevitable result of giving “gifts” to his supporters—African Americans, Latinos, and women:
In a conference call Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the “old playbook” of wooing specific interest groups — “specially the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said. […]
“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.”
Now, there’s a way to read this so that it doesn’t sound as bad as it looks. Politics is a transactional business, and people vote for politicians who improve their lives and provide them with tangible and symbolic benefits. Contraception coverage, subsidies for health insurance—these are things that voters like and appreciate.
But Romney’s analysis goes beyond this, and takes a turn to something ugly. With the exception of the immigration enforcement decision—the pseudo DREAM Act that he implemented with his administrative power—there was nothing passed or supported by the Obama administration that could plausibly be described as a “gift” to particular demographics. The Affordable Care Act applies to all Americans—regardless of color or income—who need access to health insurance. And many of the provisions contained within are common sense policies that—at one point in his career—Romney supported. If Obamacare is a “gift” to blacks, Latinos and women, then we should say the same for the upper-income Bush tax cuts, which provide just as much—if not more—to the nation’s wealthiest people.
What we know, however, is that there is a real ugly history behind the idea that “urban” Democrats win elections by giving “gifts” to minorities. To wit: One particular right-wing meme that has dogged Obama throughout his presidency is the idea that he has given reparations to blacks for slavery, in the form of health care benefits and other material goods.
And indeed, given Romney’s own campaign, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on this; remember, this is the same Mitt Romney who said the NAACP was supporting Obama because they want “free stuff,” and who argued vociferously—in ads and interviews—that Obama was “gutting” welfare reform and “giving out checks” in order to “shore up his base.” Hell, if you read the above quote, he refers to leniency for the children of undocumented immigrants as “amnesty for the children of illegals.”
Which is to say this: Even if there is a way to interpret Romney’s remarks as innocuous, I’m going to say that they’re not. The “real Romney,” it turns out, is the one who really does believe that 47 percent of Americans can’t be convinced to “take responsibility for their lives.” And those Americans, it seems, are the ones who don’t look like him.
One last thing: There’s a serious problem for Romney’s analysis—he lost Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that are older and whiter than the rest of the country.
Did they get free stuff too?