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The best that can be said of the recently leaked comment that Governor Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser in May is that President Barack Obama could have said the same, and that is not a good thing. According to a video of the remarks, Romney said:
“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….And they will vote for this president no matter what….These are people who pay no income tax….I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
As Bill Kristol points out at The Weekly Standard, the comment insults many of Governor Romney’s own supporters. “It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters—especially of course seniors (who might well ‘believe they are entitled to heath care,’ a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan,” Kristol writes. As a corollary, it’s also worth recalling a fact that anyone who has spent time in New York City knows well: Some of those with the most wealth also have the most contempt for conservative arguments.
One could argue that Romney is merely guilty of misreading the electorate, but the problem with the statement runs deeper. By writing off 47 percent of the country to lives of government dependence, Romney buys the narrative that Obama has been selling of a static society where the poor get poorer as the rich get richer, where Americans “dependent” on government have no ambition to build lives of independence, and where democracy is merely a system for negotiating a never-ending war between two classes — the haves and have-nots.
Romney has never accepted this narrative before, and he should not accept it now. The candidate who once spoke out against Obama’s “bitter politics of envy” needs to find his voice again. Otherwise, Romney’s words will only serve to complete Obama’s most infamous phrase. As Obama told Americans who have earned success, “You didn’t build that,” Romney will have told millions hungering for a better life, “You don’t want to build that.”