Mitt Romney is scrambling faster than a fry-cook in a truck stop grill at checkout time. The former Massachusetts governor and now Republican nominee for president managed to shove a polished shoe in between his choppers at a private Republican fundraiser and appeared to write off 47 percent of the American people as happy to be dependent on government and paying no taxes. He reckoned theyd vote for President Obama no matter what.
The inescapable conclusion: Hes going for the remaining 53 percent and the rest of the people can take a hike.
Now heres the magic in Romneys comment, which was taped and now has, as they say, gone viral. Hes managed to anger both the left and the right.
Obama is playing things cool, but Romney is drawing plenty of blasts from moderates and Obama backers who say his comments demonstrate his true self someone they see as a hard-hearted wealthy guy who has no connection to ordinary people, the sheltered son of a rich man who became richer himself and knows little of the struggles of ordinary Americans.
Romney decried what he called an overdependence on government for health care, housing, food, you name it. People who would do without, if it werent for taxpayer-funded assistance, have good reason to disagree. Consider the implication that the increase in the number of Americans on food stamps is evidence of a self-chosen dependency on government programs.
Thats preposterous, and Republicans offer no alternative to entitlements they say theyd like to cut. Food stamps is a good example. Would they end the program or reduce it dramatically and allow children to go hungry? Do they understand that many recipients are working?
Do they get that the increase in recipients (who typically buy the basics for their families with the coupons, despite what critics often say about buying luxuries) is also related to the near-collapse of the economy while the population has grown? And finally, has it occurred to them that many people who grew up in tough circumstances have received government help and broken away from it?
Consider Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who responded to Romneys comments by noting that his own family received assistance, for which he was grateful.
For Republicans to say those on food stamps want to be dependent on government is like blaming people in the middle of a flu pandemic for overcrowded emergency rooms. And make no mistake: the economic freefall that began in the Bush administration is a major factor in what has crowded the public assistance rolls.
Romneys harsh generalizations breeze past some pertinent facts: Some of those who dont pay federal taxes are elderly and poor or both and dont owe any taxes. Others are wealthy people who manage to avoid taxes. Others get tax credits for college expenses. And so forth. There are, in other words, perfectly legal reasons why some people dont owe federal taxes.
Romney is not ignorant, so that is no excuse for this pretty vicious dismissal of nearly half of all Americans a dismissal that he says was not elegantly stated but that he has not disavowed.
That leaves as his only excuse either that hes trying to appeal to ultra-conservative members of his party (who think hes not going far enough) for political convenience or that he was being candid in the belief that no one outside the May campaign event would find out about what he said. Neither is a stand-up explanation.