Mitt Romney's 47% Problem

"You cannot be serious." --John McEnroe

"You cannot be serious." --John McEnroe

One of the many challenges of John McCain's campaign four years ago, besides the past-due expiration date on the candidate himself, was Sarah Palin's IED of a mouth. If the campaign wasn't finished before her nomination, she doomed it. The biggest challenge for Mitt Romney, among too many to flip-flop through, is Mitt Romney's mouth: what were IEDs in the McCain campaign are now suicide bombings in Romney's, with Romney the Groundhog-Day bomber: he self-destructs, and comes back for more. Maybe Mormons have more in common with Buddhist notions of reincarnation than we knew.

The post-truth compulsions of the Romney campaign are making us nostalgic for Richard Nixon. But three howlers stand out (so far) from that video of Romney's talk at a post-convention fund-raiser Mother Jones acquired (see here): his alleged joke about wishing he was Latino, his rejection of the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, which would be an astounding reversal of 35 years of American aims and policy going back to the Camp David accords of 1978, and of course this statement, the most damaging at home, which must have lacked the usual warning savvier political candidates tend to respect ("don't try this at home"):

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...These are people who pay no income tax...[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney's backtracking in a rapid-deployment news conference Monday evening was clever but convincing only to the extent that it confirmed his pirouetting skills and the vacuum at his political inner-core: he'll fill it with whatever is necessary to say, to win, in any given moment. He smoothed the edges of his abrasive statements at the fund-raiser, but he did not retreat from the fundamental points, and dug his hole deeper in some regards, especially when he cast the election in purely self-serving mathematical terms, when he described his aims at no more than winning 50.1 percent. That's not the best way to portray oneself as a statesman-like leader who recognizes the limits of his appeal but nevertheless aims to represent the entire nation.

The statement about the 47 percent is in and of itself, in whatever context, a fountain of revelations, mostly of Romney's contradictions and cynicism.

First, while 46 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax in 2011, most of those paid the payroll tax, which, by itself, puts most Americans' tax liability at more than half that of Mitt Romney's 13 percent: it's not smart for a man whose millions are taxed so lightly to criticize half of America of paying no taxes. The majority of those 47 percent also pay excise taxes, state taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and sin taxes, to name a few.

Then there's the insult about those 47 percent as "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims." But most of the people who pay no income taxes don't do so because of Republican policies. It's Democrats, remember, who allegedly like to tax people more, and Republicans who do the opposite. You can't have it both ways--cut taxes then blame the opposition for not paying taxes.

Ronald Reagan successfully pushed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives working class people money back as an incentive for working. The Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded by Newt Gingrich on the way to welfare reform Bill Clinton signed in 1997. Republican-favored tax credits to the elderly, passed with winning states like Florida in mind, eliminated millions of elderly tax payers from the tax rolls. George W. Bush's massive 2001 tax cuts eliminated millions of lower-income people off the tax rolls. His massive 2003 tax cut, much of which directed at the wealthiest Americans by way of exempting investment income, lowered the tax liabilities of another chunk (Romney was in that batch).

The expansion of the child tax credit eliminated millions more (7.8 million, according to the Tax Foundation). A good many millionaires, too, pay no income taxes: 4,000 did so in 2011, by taking advantage of deductions. Dependent on government? Maybe: on deductions. Victims? In the Romney liturgy, they're only victims of still-too-high taxes: his tax cuts would exempt even more people from paying them.

Finally, while a majority of people who pay no income taxes do so by taking advantage of tax breaks, three-fourths of remaining households that pay no income tax do so "because of provisions that benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children. Those provisions include the exclusion of some Social Security benefits from taxable income, the tax credit and extra standard deduction for the elderly," the Tax Policy Center found. See the fuller Tax Policy Center's analysis here.

One last point. In his backtracking Monday evening, Romney blamed President Obama for the 23 million people who are either out of work or under-employed, and said he was running for president to help them. But he'd just called people receiving unemployment checks "victims" and "dependents." He'd just lumped most of those 23 million people in the "my-job-is-not-to-worry-about-those-people" camp, adding them to batches of Social Security recipients, those millionaires and those working class people, who have been voting solidly Republican since Reagan.

Romney's math has never computed. His politics aren't computing, either. Nor is his campaign. At that fund-raiser he didn't so much reveal who he was as confirm what had been known and presumed but never said so well in his own words. He called himself inelegant in his backtracking last night. That's the least of it.

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