Mitt Romney, Unzipped

Mother Jones has obtained a video of Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser where he offers a candid view of the election, voters, and the people who support Barack Obama. In the case of the latter, the former Massachusetts governor sounds more like a Tea Party activist than a mainstream politician:

Here’s a partial transcript:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. […]

[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

To be fair, there’s no way to know if this is what Romney “really” thinks. Remarks to donors and fundraisers are just as crafted and audience-targeted as any speech to the public. This isn’t an excuse, but it’s context worth considering.

That said, Romney is right to say that there are 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax, but he’s wrong to imply that they pay nothing—in addition to paying a variety of state taxes, those 47 percent also pay federal payroll taxes on their earnings. It’s not that they don’t work—they just don’t earn enough to owe additional income to the federal government. To begrudge them for this—to attack them as people who don’t take “personal responsibility” for their lives—is to show a real callousness and disdain for many of the people he seeks to represent.

I should say that I’m one of those people who believes government has a responsibility to provide health care, food and housing. Like Romney says, I see these as entitlements—the basics that people need to flourish and work toward their potential. And as the wealthiest nation to ever exist, I believe we have an obligation to provide them, so that we can create the space for individual achievement. Romney favors a world where taxes are low and businesses are freed from social obligation. I prefer one where the sick can have care, the poor can have food, and the homeless have shelter. It’s why—at a minimum—I support Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and assistance programs for food and housing.

Liberals are sure to unload on Romney for this statement. But in correcting the facts and providing a more accurate picture of the public, we should also use this as an opportunity to defend our vision of the good. Romney is attacking the values and goals of American liberalism, and we shouldn’t let it stand.