About six weeks from election day, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark has taken center stage in an election campaign heretofore bereft of a whole lot of pizazz (the antics of the long since departed Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann aside). As is by now well known, Romney’s remark divided the nation between the “takers” and the “makers” in a private fund-raising session, but it got loose, as such statements have a way of doing, and the GOP candidate was faced with an apparent choice: try to explain the remark away, or stand behind it and push.
Characteristically, Romney did both. He first admitted that the remark was “inelegant”, but no sooner did we start to ponder what that really meant when Romney decided to push too. The New York Times captured Romney’s challenge that the country should have a real debate between the “redistributionist” big-government Obama point of view and the self-reliant, smaller government Romney point of view.
Well, okay, what else could the man have done? Retreat bares the buttocks to unfriendly fire, and that’s no good. So better to double down and hope that the appearance of confidence trumps the literal foolishness of the “inelegant” statement.
Why foolish? David Brooks said it about as well as it can be said. Who are these freeloading 47 percent? They very much include veterans of America’s wars, who “take” from the VA. They include the elderly, more Republican than Democratic, who “take” by redeeming their life-long contributions to the Social Security reservoir. They include the handicapped and those who are poor through no fault of their own.
Does the 47 percent include some actual freeloaders, and those who have been sucked into a dependency culture by misbegotten government policies? Absolutely, yes. But Romney, like Ronald Reagan before him, with his outrageous depictions of “welfare queens”, tries to make it seem like the entirely of the 47 percent are in some fundamental way undeserving of public assistance of any kind and are in fact less than upstanding, fully moral human beings. They are the undeserving “takers”, the hand-out masters, the smarmy manipulators, pure and simple—and they amount to nearly half the entire American population.
Yes, it’s absurd, but that’s what the man said and now has essentially repeated. That is why Brooks was right to criticize Romney for not knowing much about American culture, not knowing much about the political culture, not recognizing the existence of a social compact, and not knowing much about ambition and motivation either.
Does Romney really believe this nonsense, or was he just pandering to big-money Randian nitwits? Before he doubled down on the 47 percent meme, one could have reasonably given him the benefit of the doubt. That’s harder now, and in that light I’d like to add an observation or two that Brooks, for one reason or another, omitted in his commentary.
First, if one wants to go pointing fingers at those who are sucking off the ample teats of big government, one ought to reserve a finger or two for those fat on corporate welfare: the giant corporate beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies; the insurance industry that has for years managed to con Congress into suspending anti-trust laws concerning healthcare coverage; Big Pharma, whose sweet mega-lobbied deals with government enable its companies to make outrageous profits well beyond what is reasonably needed to protect proprietary research; and hedge-fund managers who get to count their earnings as capital gains instead of income. Above all there are the federally chartered banks, which have the government’s charge to be vessels of the Fed’s monetary policy largesse in return for being, in essence, public utilities whose interests align with those of the economy as a whole—except that they no longer do, preferring instead to make their fortunes on commissions, casino derivative wagering, unproductive credit card debt and student loan scams. I could go on, but if I merely listed every pro-corporate tax loophole, tax credit and subsidy now in play we would be here for a week.
Second, and more pungent it seems to me, let’s just consider for a moment why so many Americans rely on the VA, why many formerly middle-class Americans have fallen into forms of dependency above and beyond the percentile figures of a quarter century ago, and why so many Americans aren’t well enough educated to secure what jobs there are. Is it because these sectors making up Romney’s 47 percent are filled with the “underserving poor” who are famously, in the words of John Locke, “quarrelsome and contentious”?
Who made the decisions, rightly or wrongly, to launch the wars that created America’s needy veterans? The common men and women of the land, or the foreign policy/national security elite? Who made the decisions to outsource American manufacturing jobs, invest instead in Chinese and other foreign production platforms, and thus create the basis of the growing income inequality of the past quarter century? Quarrelsome and contentious commoners, or the American economic and business elite? Who made the decisions that led to our most needy young people not getting the support they have required and deserved to succeed in school and then in their careers, and to keeping too many of our schools de facto separate and unequal all these years? Common ordinary people, or America’s political elite?
Of all the things Mitt Romney does not understand, the nature of social causality itself has to rank way up there. In Romneyland there is no past, there is only now—only the slick, polished tabula rasa of the lighter-than-air libertarian imagination. So come on all of you underserved young adults, you semi-skilled unemployed whose livelihoods have vanished, you vivacious retirees and you disabled vets: Stop whining about rising food, energy, healthcare and housing costs; refuse all those lucrative government handouts; don’t become ill; stop making excuses and pull yourself up by those bootstraps of yours. And above all, vote Republican on November 6.