Is Mitt Romney Calling You a Freeloader?
Well, maybe and maybe not.
Watch this video – which was taped in secret – of the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, speaking at a fundraising event:
The clip is part of longer video of the same event, in which Romney talks about other issues. (For one thing, he says Obama bases his diplomacy on trying to use his "charm" to sway leaders of other countries.)
Was he talking about you? Let's take a look.
Who are the 47%?
Simply put, they are:
"[T]he portion of American households that owe no income tax for 2009."
If you don't pay income tax, it's very likely because you are low income or unemployed.
(Which raises the question: Is Romney saying that low-income Americans and the unemployed are "entitled" people who not only see themselves as "victims" and sponge off the government, but also are in the tank for Obama? More on this later.)
And military veterans don't pay income taxes on their combat pay.
And that's just income tax. It doesn't mean they pay no taxes. (Most people pay payroll tax, which goes to Medicare and Social Security, as well as sales tax and other taxes.)
And if you pay no income tax or payroll tax, that's usually because you're either elderly and living on Social Security, or because you're low-income.
Here's where "non-payers" of income tax live:
If that section at the bottom reminds you a little bit of those red state / blue state maps, you're not wrong.
So it looks like Romney might have been referring to a lot of people who tend to vote Republican, not Democratic. Whoops.
What's Romney saying about it?
He admitted his comments weren't "elegantly stated."
Responding to the part in the video where he says "my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said this:
"Of course, I want to help all Americans, all Americans, have a bright and prosperous future."
He also said this to a Fox News reporter, according to Politico:
"And the problem right now is you see in this country so many people have fallen into poverty that they're not paying taxes - they have to rely on government. And the right course to help them is not just to have government handing out but instead government helping people to get back to good jobs."
Let me guess. People are getting hysterical about this, right?
— Heather R. Mizeur (@heathermizeur) September 17, 2012
It's way beyond gaffe level. It's a full-blown firestorm.
Of course, it also became an instant joke, partly because Romney is very rich and has refused to make public how much he himself pays in taxes.
What will Romney do for an encore? Condemn people who don't save enough for a weekend house? Use #RomneyEncore hashtag
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) September 18, 2012
Everything Mitt Romney says is so reckless, I feel like he should say "YOLO" after every speech. #RomneyEncore
— Devon Zdatny (@devonzdatny) September 18, 2012
And some are saying that the Romney campaign's handling of the whole situation raises larger questions.
If a candidate flees in the face of a press question, what kind of courage are we to expect in the face of a national crisis? #romneyencore
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) September 18, 2012
On the other hand, are some people supporting what Romney said? Absolutely.
This election is about America's makers vs. America's takers. Romney should NEVER be defensive or apologetic about making that clear.
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) September 18, 2012
— Fox News Opinion (@fxnopinion) September 18, 2012
Has Obama ever had a moment like this?
Well, when he said "you didn't build that" to small business owners a few weeks ago, that ticked off a lot of people too.
And some are saying the Romney video reminds them of when Obama was running for president in the first place and said some people who are frustrated with government "get bitter and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren't like them":
Still, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are saying the Romney video shows that their rival is "out of touch" and "doesn't get it."
We can’t afford a President who says “my job is not to worry about” 47% of the American people: pic.twitter.com/q80ZjCHs
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 18, 2012
VP Biden on Romney: “He is totally out of touch with the reality of what ordinary Americans deal with every day. He does not get it.”
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 18, 2012
By the way, Obama said the same thing four years ago about his opponent then, John McCain:
What really matters here?
Here are some of the big questions:
- Is Romney right or wrong to basically divide the country into two groups, "makers" and "takers"?
- Is he right or wrong that people who pay low taxes are not interested in the Republican plan to lower taxes?
- Is he right or wrong that people who pay low taxes are people who see themselves as "victims" who are "entitled" to government help and eager to take advantage of it?
- Is he right or wrong that people who pay low taxes are voting for Obama and can't be convinced to vote for Romney?
- Is he suggesting that almost half of Americans don't think for themselves when it comes to electing a president?
- Is Romney saying that his "job is not to worry about" 47% of the U.S. population - the part that doesn't pay income taxes - in general? Or is he saying that he can't persuade them to vote for him? Both? Neither?
- Are these comments going to sway any voters or affect the campaign in other ways, like donations to both candidates?
Here are some things you can do about this story right now, by level of commitment.
Images used under Creative Commons licensing.
Holly Epstein Ojalvo
Holly’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower engaged activists who will change the world. She was previously an editor at The New York Times and a high school teacher. She spent her brief 20’s slump at a mousepad factory. Holly earned a B.A. at Lafayette College and M.A.'s at U Delaware and NYU. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and cat, Tomie Twotone. Follow: @heoj.