Mitt Romney is wrong. It’s not 47% of Americans who are dependent on the government, it’s 100%
The leaked tape of Mitt Romney speaking at a private donors function has, it’s fair to say, caused something of a stir since being released last week. In many ways, it is the perfect gift for the Democrats; here is a video of millionaire candidate Romney in a room full of millionaire donors, in the home of a controversial private equity manager, casually dismissing almost half of the American population as a lost cause. No spin is required to turn this against the Republican presidential candidate. His own words do damage enough.
The video, which has been on YouTube in various forms since May (the event occurred on May 17) has now been released in full by Mother Jones. Beyond his comments about government dependency, Mitt Romney claims Middle East peace is ‘almost unthinkable’, mocks US immigration policy and jokes that he is ‘as poor as a church mouse’. The latter comment in particular is likely to grate on the ears of Americans suffering in a struggling economy. On the whole though, the most significant part of the video was the part released first.
The discussion since the release of the video has mainly focused on two things. The first is identifying the demographics of the 47% of people Mitt Romney says are ‘dependent on the government’ – who they are, where they live, how well off they are. The second is the offensive nature of the remarks, and it is here where things get slightly more complicated.
The most important remarks made by Romney in the tape are that 47% of the American public ‘believe that they are victims’ and are ‘dependent on the government’. As well as being dangerously vague (victims of what?) the first of these is demonstrably false, and for Romney to assert such a precise figure for something so hard to quantify is arrogant and bizarre.
But what of the claim that almost half of Americans are dependent upon government? Well, obviously there are some problems with this. For one, not all people on state benefits will vote for President Obama. For another, not all people on state benefits are dependent upon them.
More importantly though, it suggests that 53% of Americans are not dependent on government. And in doing so, suggests that the default state of the American citizen is to not be dependent on government. Most importantly, it demonstrates that the American right’s distaste for government has now become so vociferous that their definition of it has become skewed.
Republican politics (and American politics in general) has treated ‘government’ as a dirty word for a long time; it is a cultural constant in a nation which defines itself in terms of the Wild West, Henry Ford and free enterprise. It is an inherent part of the American mindset to be distrustful of government.
There does appear to be a gradual shift from a position of scepticism towards government to a position of animosity towards it in all its forms. On his first day in office, Ronald Reagan said that ‘government can and must provide opportunity’. It is hard to imagine Mitt Romney saying the same thing now, which is remarkable considering that Romney is considered too moderate by vast swathes of the GOP.
But it is of course the case that, though he would never admit it, Mitt Romney himself is dependent upon the government. Without the protection of property established and maintained by government, Romney’s great personal wealth would not be safe. Without the legal assurance of contract, Bain Capital would have made no money.
Romney was wrong to say that 47% of Americans are dependent on the government. In truth, all Americans are. All Americans depend on the Judicial system to bring about justice. All Americans depend on the police to maintain the rule of law. Unlike Reagan, who talked about giving power back to the states and the people (though in reality he expanded the federal government hugely), Romney does not distinguish between the types of government he says people are dependent on.
When Romney dismisses people who are dependent on the government, he isn’t thinking about the armed forces, or the police, or the judiciary which upholds the constitution, because these are all things he realises are beloved by America. ‘Government’ has become so loathed by sections of the Republican Party that to even acknowledge that all citizens are to a degree dependent upon it is sacrilegious. In actuality, even the richest Americans are.
When Mitt Romney next visits a group of veterans or police officers, it is likely that he will either ignore or try to water down the comments he made in this video. If not, he will soon discover that although a radically anti-government stance will make him popular in Republican circles, it is not a position 53% of Americans are ready to support.Tagged in: 2012 election, GOP, Mitt Romeny, obama, Republican
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