Romney embraces ‘takers vs makers’ meme with 47 percent remarks

OPINION - The implosion of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president continued this week with remarks the candidate made at a high dollar fundraiser back on May 17...

The implosion of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president continued this week with remarks the candidate made at a high dollar fundraiser back on May 17.  In a video obtained by Mother Jones, Romney is seen and heard talking about 47 percent of the country, which he says will never support him:

“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.”

“And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49, 4–he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.”

“I mean, that’s what they sell ever four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is to convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”

The damage this quote will have on Romney’s chances in November remains to be seen. What is known is that Romney’s comments were not a gaffe, as the candidate chose to double down on the remarks in a hastily-scheduled press availability late Monday night.  The message is one that Romney has said on the campaign trail repeatedly, one that he insists he will continue to say, and one that is a tenet of conservative thinking.

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“I want people to know what I stand for and if I don’t stand for what they want, go vote for someone else, that’s just fine,” Romney said after a poorly received speech before the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “But I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy-more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.”

Romney’s basic argument is that there are large segments of the country – Obama supporters – who are freeloaders and don’t contribute to our society.  This “47 percent” simply take from the rest of Americans – in Romney’s framing they are taking from the wealthy like the people in attendance at the Romney fundraiser – and they take disproportionately from government benefits. This entire premise is false of course; wealth inequality is at record levels and it’s really the rich that take disproportionately from government by way of tax loopholes and government subsidies.  As Ezra Klein points out in the Washington Post, this is the makers vs takers mentality and is typical class warfare language.

Furthermore, the idea that Romney is selling to his wealthy donors is that much of the country is part of the “entitlement society” and not paying their fair share.  But the reality is that those who make up the portion of the country not paying income taxes include the poor or working poor who make too little to pay income taxes, the elderly, and the unemployed.  It seems that with these remarks, Mitt Romney is continuing down the road of the candidate in the race who is out of touch with ordinary Americans.  Romney recently bragged that he has never paid lower than a 14 percent tax rate – although he has yet to release any additional information to substantiate this claim – while the vast majority of Americans pay a much higher rate.

This dependency narrative being pushed by Mitt Romney should insult the majority of the country in a profound way.  Most Americans are working day in and day out to make ends meet in an economy struggling to get back on track after eight years of the economic policies Republicans and Mitt Romney still support, and yet he has the audacity to label them lazy freeloaders.  Mitt Romney should know that the unless they are forbidden by voter suppression tactics, these hard working Americans will vote — and they add up to more than 47 percent of the electorate.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell