Mitt Romney’s comments on “those people” uttered in a video released yesterday are the missing link in the candidates views on race and economic justice.
In a closed door session for millionaire donors, caught on tape and released by Mother Jones, Romney said that his “job was not to worry about 47 percent of the people” who “will vote for this President no matter what.” He characterized this 47 percent as government-dependent “victims…who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it.” “I’ll never convince them to…care for their lives,” Romney concludes.
With these words, Romney wrote off nearly half the country as doomed to history. Not since the time of President James Buchanan, when the US was a slave republic, has a possible occupant of the White House so openly turned his back on a such a large proportion of the American people.
Romney’s heartfelt riff was stunningly wrong and counterfactual in almost every way. Frighteningly it was grounded in over 500 years of racial stereotypes about people of color, particularly those of African descent. The former governor didn’t use the word “black.” He didn’t have to. The nature of his economic smear did it for him.
Wrong on the Facts
Romney labeled 47 (it’s actually 46) percent of the US population as economic castaways. According to him the fact that they don’t have jobs and, as a result don’t pay federal income tax, marks them as unimportant to society. However, contrary his assertion, most people who pay no federal income tax actually do work. They just make barely enough to live. As Bill Clinton alluded to in his remarks at the DNC, Romney struggles with the basic “arithmetic” of his thinking
As the Tax Policy Center (TPC) details, 8 out of 10 of the people who pay no taxes are either working poor, elderly or in school. As the TPC report says, close to half of households who pay no taxes, because of exemptions for a “subsistence level income,” earn under $20,000 a year.
But in Romney’s mind these facts don’t matter. Like Clint Eastwood, he’s concocted a vision that the rest of us don’t see. In it, half of America is in economic distress because they are, in a word, shiftless. This slur—used for generations to mark blacks as economic sloths—conveys the exact notion that Romney telegraphed in his remarks: these entitled, lazy deadbeats have nothing because they sit around waiting for a handout.
In this, Romney’s worldview mirrors that of plutocrats from the past. It was the bedrock rationale for landed aristocrats in the Old South. For most of us, this America has long since faded. But Romney’s remarks show that for some, its economic ideas are alive and well.
Wrong in his policies
The America that Romney imagines shed light on the economic policies he wants to implement as President.
As I discussed in detail last week, Romney wants to give $ 5 trillion in tax cuts aimed at the wealthy. In a blatant crony-capitalist move, he seeks to funnel an additional $2 trillion to the Republican-friendly defense industry. Because the rich and corporate America are already rolling in dough, he believes they ought to have more of it. And everyone else has to pay for it.
Romney’s wealth transfer to the rich is funded by cuts to the middle class, working poor, and poor. He wants to eliminate almost $6 trillion in spending for health, education, food aid, and transportation. Romney’s plan raises the drawbridge of economic opportunity for most Americans. But since Romney believes that 47 percent of the population is forever destitute, they don’t need it.
Part of a pattern
Romney’s comments provide additional insight into his pick of Paul Ryan. Ryan, like Romney, believes that a “culture of dependency” took hold in the 1930s and 1960s. These were decades when America pushed hardest for racial and economic fairness.
Many thought that Romney’s choice of Ryan was a calculated move to satisfy the fringe right. It now seems that it was made as a result of his own beliefs. Ryan’s muse, Ayn Rand, argued that Native Americans should be dispossessed of their property because they’d failed to produce a capitalist society on their own.
Romney’s private remarks were made in May, just before he launched a summer of economic race-baiting in an attempt to cleave white women from President Obama. Picking up Reagan’s successful racial code on welfare, Romney hoped to stoke economic resentment amongst whites to get votes. But the video lays bare the contempt that he has for them as well. Romney doesn’t seem to think that working class whites deserve help either.
During the past six years that he’s been running for President, we’ve often wondered, “who exactly is Mitt Romney?” He’s appeared detached and robotic. Now, with his inner self revealed on tape, we have a better understanding of why.
Romney is an amalgam of the worst of America’s economic ideas. This “rich first and everyone else second no matter the cost” brought the first incarnation of the US to ruin 150 years ago in civil war. During the last thirty years, we’ve tried another version of it. Yet again, in 2008, running the country for the benefit of an economic oligarchy brought us to the brink of catastrophe. But Mitt Romney doesn’t acknowledge any of it. Instead he embraces the skewed philosophy that makes economic injustice thrive. In 2012 America, you have to be a bit of an out-of-touch automaton to actually believe it.