Gwynne Dyer: Is Mitt Romney one of the 47 percent?

It has always been hard for people with strong opinions to tolerate the discipline of electoral politics, which demands that they never speak their minds in public. Say what you really think, and you are bound to alienate some of the votes that you need to win. But it’s getting harder: even at private gatherings, today’s politicians are likely to be secretly video-recorded, so they must never reveal their true opinions.

The latest victim of this rule is Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency. He needed to feed some red meat to the people who had paid $50,000 a head to attend a fundraiser in May in Florida. Most of them doubtless believed that poor Americans are shiftless, Palestinians are evil, and Iranians are crazed fanatics, and they were not paying to have their views challenged. Still, he should have been more careful.

Blaming the failure of 19 years of negotiation to bring a peace settlement in the Arab-Israeli dispute entirely on the Palestinians was not going to get him in trouble at home. “The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," he said, which would be seen as a distortion of the truth in most parts of the world, but it does no harm to Romney domestically. Indeed, lots of Obama voters think that too.

Same goes for the bizarre scenario he drew about the alleged threat from Iran. “If I were Iran, a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb.’”

This is only one or two steps short of expressing a fear of werewolves, but in the United States this sort of discourse is routine. The U.S. Department of Defense regularly uses equally shoddy and cynical arguments to justify its huge budget. Romney will not get into any trouble with the electorate for this “gaffe”.

Where it all went wrong was when he said “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” referring to the Americans who don’t pay income tax. “There are 47 percent who are with [Obama], 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.”

The audience at the fundraiser obviously believes that, and it’s pretty likely that Romney believes it himself, but it is simply not true.

If all of the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax automatically vote for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, then the Republicans can never win an election. At least not unless everybody who pays income tax votes Republican, which seems pretty unlikely.

Surely some taxpayers must vote Democratic, even if they are only Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women, Asians, union members, and effete Eastern intellectuals. And some non-taxpayers certainly do vote Republican. In fact, the Republican Party’s core strategy for decades has been to win white, working-class votes by stressing its conservative social values. Without their votes, the last Republican president would have been Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But Romney actually dismissed the importance of those voters, although white, working-class voters who are unemployed or underemployed, and pay no taxes, could make the difference between victory and defeat for him. So could retired people too poor to pay taxes, who are often social conservatives.

In Romney’s view, his role “is not to worry about those people [the 47 percent]. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” If this is not outright contempt, it comes very close.

It was especially reckless of Romney to couch the whole discourse in terms of who pay taxes or doesn’t. This from a man who has refused to release more than the past two years of his own tax returns. Why endure all the criticism about not releasing the past five years, say, if there was nothing to hide in the returns for the preceding years? Like, maybe, the possibility that Romney paid no tax at all in those previous returns.

The people who pay no taxes in the United States are the very poor and the very rich, and Romney certainly falls into the latter category. If he paid no tax at all in 2007, 2008, and 2009, say, he would have fallen into the 47 percent in those years. So should we conclude that he voted for Obama in 2008?

Probably not, and we can feel a certain sympathy for a man whose supposedly private remarks, shaped to appeal to an ultra-rich and ultra-conservative audience, have been dragged into the public domain. But he should have known better. Almost invisible to him, there was another group of people in that room who were not rich at all: the people who waited on the tables of the mighty.

It was almost certainly one of those helots who took the video of his talk. They are getting in everywhere.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Comments (10) Add New Comment
Teedeer
There is a lot of thinking that the Utube video of Romney commenting about the 47%'ers was an slip-up on the part of his campaign committee. I doubt it. I'm sure this was carefully crafted at exactly the voters he needs to be at the polls on elelction day. He's dead on the mark when he said they aren't going to vote for him anyway. There is huge resentment in America about people who neither work nor look for work. The Romney team know they have to get what they deem as the "producers of society" out to vote. His words were aimed directly at those people being at the polls on election day. This was a carefully crafted release.
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KiDDAA Magazine
Interesting Mormonism is considered a cult and Americans still may vote for a rich, white, border line racist, who wants more war, less education, less social services and has the intelligence not close to Obamas.
White racism is alive and well in the United States and Canada.
8 years of Bush made the USA go far back in UN rankings, 4 years of Romney should seal the deal, and end of the empire. Lets hope those down south, grow brains and give Obama, who ended the Iraq war, gave health care, and killed Americas primary enemy Osama. Amazing that its even close.
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JohnCan
The irony is Romney may not even have meant those words that now almost surely will sink him. Maybe he did, but if he really didn't pay taxes himself all those years, then he knew what he was saying was bs. I suspect he may have gone into that mansion thinking to himself, OK, here's a bunch of rich guys just like me and I need their money. I know what buttons to push. Sweet justice for the man who would say anything to anyone to get ahead.
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Cuarenta y siete
I feel that this statement made by Romney is the penultimate nail in his coffin.
Obama, though not as effective as the Americans had hoped he would be, has at least the grounding needed to know what the needs are for the majority of the populace.
I say let's occupy Utah.
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JMW
The thing that bugs me about this is that while Rome burns, everyone is obsessing over the wrong note Nero played on his fiddle (yes, I know it's an anachronism, the fiddle as it exists today was invented 1400 years after Nero - but that's the image).

While debate on serious issues goes begging, American voters are being distracted by this. And the Democratic party, disappointingly, is proving to be just as gleeful in taking up this issue as the Republicans were about Kerry's swift boat service or whether Al Gore invented the internet.

But why should we be surprised? The American population (and the Canadian, for that matter) consistently show themselves to be easily distractable, given all the media hype around the Kim Kardashians and Snookis and whomever will next come down the trough.

Who cares that - squirrel!
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Kersten
He meant all of his words, I have no doubt. I am most offended by his belittling of latino radicalization struggles as something that would help him get elected. This sounds like someone who is out of touch with anyone who is not seriously privileged. I don't care if he was just doing this to get rich people's money, he should hold his head with integrity and dignity in every atmosphere. There is a deep routed elitism and resentment that is quite scary.
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petr aardvark
There were thousands of millionaires who paid no taxes as well, and an even bigger irony is that most of the 'moocher' states are southern Republican states.

Mother Jones reported that the mansion is owned by one of Romneys rich friends who likes to have sex parties - though evidently there were no sex acts when Romney gave his speech. That's not entirely true

Romney f**ked himself.
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Issac Chandler
Mit Let them eat cake Romney:
“47% who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Romney’s Mom Says his Dad was on welfare:
http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDkQtwIwAA&url=http%3...

Fox news is trying to crank the bilge pumps for Romney
http://www.newser.com/story/154413/stewart-47-gaffe-turns-fox-into-bulls...
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scissorpaws
Too often and they become SNAFU. The guy's an idiot. He drives to Canada with his DOG STRAPPED TO THE TOP OF HIS CAR?!?! I hope wherever Shamus is these days he's thinking of Willard and licking the appropriately named body part.
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Double Deuce Dave
Brings me back to the Bush days where he opened to a similar crowd "You are the haves... and the have-mores (insert stupid grin and chuckle)".

I find it hard to believe Romney would actively pursue any policies aimed at ameliorating the plight of the poor.
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