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September 18, 2012 9:20 AM Mitt’s Class Warfare

By Ed Kilgore

“Takers and makers”….”lucky duckies”….looters….parasites….those people. There has long been a nasty undertone, some of it Randian, some of it (sorry, but it is) racist, to conservative politics in this country, particularly since the rise of the Tea Party movement, whose moment of birth was a televised rant by a former hedge fund manager furious at “losers” for threatening his wealth. What’s most notable about this strain of “thinking” is its straightforwardly class nature, and its treatment of electoral politics as nothing more or less than an instrument for class domination. I won’t say all conservatives feel this way, but anyone who hasn’t felt it just under the surface of many a Republican speech or Wall Street Journal op-ed or Fox News “discussion” is really just not paying attention.

It’s appropriate that Mitt Romney openly indulged himself in this, the dirty little secret of contemporary conservatism, at a fundraising dinner hosted by a hedge-fund titan. You’ve probably read or heard about this by now, but here’s the most revealing passage:

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.

Now we are already hearing from Mitt’s defenders that he doesn’t really feel that way about half the American people, and that his public and private actions throughout his life indicates a sense of compassion and communal responsibility at odds with this stark expression of contempt and loathing for the less-fortunate. Whatever. As an indication of his intentions if elected to president (and as Ezra Klein notes, it’s highly congruent with his actual agenda), it’s just as telling if he feels the need to express these sentiments to supporters. It reminds me of the way cultivated white southerners used to prove their loyalty to Dixie by telling a racist joke now and then.

Indeed, I don’t know whether the greatest danger to Romney’s campaign right now is the video (and there are more segments from it rolling out today) or the “Hell yes!” reactions to it from the rawer elements of the conservative chattering classes. In a more detached way, National Review’s Daniel Foster is already arguing that although Mitt’s really blundered here, he might as well make the best of a bad deal and make his campaign a debate over “the entitlement state” instead of an “economic referendum” that isn’t going so well for Romney anyway.

It tells you how badly Romney has erred that one of the more eloquent rebuttals to this “takers and makers” talk comes from David Brooks:

This [Romney] comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey….
The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.

Who knows, Romney may have inadvertently touched off a debate we really do need to have, wherein we find out who the real “takers” and “makers” are in American society.

But make no mistake, Mitt’s gotten caught in a statement that is impossible to spin away, and that shreds any remaining pretense that he’s just this nice non-ideological technocrat who’s fooled an angry, vengeful conservative “base” into letting him become president. His “Boca Moment” is going to come across as the private report of a class warrior to the people paying for the war. And having dismissed 47% of the American people as hopeless and worthless, he sure hasn’t left himself much of a margin of error.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Varecia on September 18, 2012 9:35 AM:

    "...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 thatís an entitlement...These are people who pay no income tax..."

    "...[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. Iíll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives..."


    There's a reason they don't pay taxes and expect to be cared for...it's because 16 million of them are CHILDREN!!!!!

  • Varecia on September 18, 2012 9:37 AM:

  • Kathryn on September 18, 2012 9:39 AM:

    It appears to me that Mitt"s "compassion" is limited to members of his family, his church and/or people he knows personally in his business life. As David Brooks, of all people, says his (Romney's) comments "suggest that Romney doesn't know much about the the culture of America".

  • Peter C on September 18, 2012 9:40 AM:

    This is not just Romney, it's the whole Republican Party. If you expect to lose 47% of the vote, the ONLY way you can win is to prevent those people from voting by purging them from the rolls or making them get an ID which requires documents they can't put their hands on. THOSE efforts were lead by OTHERS in the Republican Party, not by Romney or his campaign.

    How many others have mentioned the great number of Americans who 'pay no income tax'?

    Wnd, Ed, I wish you wouldn't drag out David Brooks. There are liberals who can make the case against Republicans just as eloquently. The case is right and just and is powerful on its own. It doesn't need a veneer of post-partisanship. Our ideas are right, not because some Conservative can be found who agrees with them, but because they are true and evidence-based and good for the whole country.

  • DRF on September 18, 2012 9:44 AM:

    At this point, it is impossible to know what Romney actually believes about anything. He has taken so many different positions on so many issues over the years that he has no personal credibility.

    I'm inclined to believe that the comments he made at this fundraiser do reflect his actual beliefs. His statement is fairly typical of many in the investor class, particularly those who grew up in wealthy or well-to-do families and neighborhoods, went to good schools and entered the professions after college or graduate school. Like many of these folks, Romney has had almost no contact with any poor people or the working poor. I've seen nothing in this campaign or in what I've read of his record that would indicate that he has given much, if any, thought to the plight of the poor, the unemployed or the working poor.

  • Kevin Mulcahy on September 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

    Peter,

    Perhaps Ed's point, at least in part, is that if Romney is losing Brooks, or at least making him increasingly skeptical, then he (Romney) is in very serious trouble.

  • N.Wells on September 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

    Romney is merely getting a little ahead of the game plan - as soon as the Supreme Court finishes establishing the principle of one dollar, one vote, insulting 50% of the electorate will no longer be a problem.

  • boatboy_srq on September 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

    As David Brooks, of all people, says his (Romney's) comments "suggest that Romney doesn't know much about the the culture of America".

    When David Brooks notices you're out of touch, then it's unlikely you're going to be able to fix that in one lifetime.

    I think we may be seeing the first campaign by someone who wants to be the next pResident of the United Gated Communities of America.

  • T2 on September 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

    as I said last night, Romney's comments are not surprising...that is the GOP Platform ..rob the poor and give to the rich. Anyone who didn't understand that before this video does now.
    Peter C has it right......the Voter Fraud gimmick is a Republican means to keep the 47%ers from defeating them....If all the 47%ers voted, the Conservative "way" would have been in the dumpster years ago. But unfortunately they don't all vote (regardless of voter ID scams). And that is why we find ourselves in this mess, watching a a guy like Mitt Romney stays 1-2% points away from the Presidency. VOTE, dammit.

  • newinfluence on September 18, 2012 9:47 AM:

    What strikes me is the ease with which Romney said this. Gone were the robotic and stiff mannerisms, replaced by a sneering, disdainful anger. He finally showed the true Romney that we've been clamoring for, and it wasn't pretty.

  • c u n d gulag on September 18, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Another good chunk of that 47% are Mitt's base - old white people on SS and Medicare.

    Oh, and hereís some interesting stuff about the guy who hosted that little gathering of Plutocratic Randian @$$holes:
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/09/18/mitt-romneys-donors-and-their-shameful-dependency-on-government/

    Also too Ė it might not help Mitt with the Evangelical base of his party, if they find out his host also holds week long sex-parties - aka: orgies - on a fairly regular basis:
    http://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/09/18/why-marc-leder-and-the-sex-parties-business-could-be-kind-of-a-big-deal/

    You can follow the links from BJ to the original sources.

    Also three:
    On the plus side about those sex-parties - based on the rich people who attens them, thatís probably the only time they arenít achieving their orgasms by fecking the poor and middle class.

  • Daryl McCullough on September 18, 2012 9:48 AM:

    What's strange about the modern Republican strategy of pitting 1/2 the population against the other half is that they NEED some of the people they are demonizing to get elected. Republicans may have the support of 60% of the upper-income white voters, but only about 25% of the population fits in that category. To have a chance at electoral victory, Republicans have to get at least 40% of the lower-income white vote.

  • T2 on September 18, 2012 9:50 AM:

    @newinfluence.....yep....the stiffness is his "tell" as a liar. When he's telling the truth, he's relaxed. This explains why he looks "stiff" almost all the time.

  • del on September 18, 2012 9:52 AM:

    What about the farmer who has lost his crop to natural disaster like the drought who relies on that government check to make up for the loss. What about the state and city taxes paid by Americans where they reside. This mantra of people not paying taxes is a lie as you pay taxes on all goods and services received locally.

    And to listen to his defender from Morning Joe talking about going to urban communities to talk attract the vote not of those residents but the suburban white woman vote is more proof they don't get it. Don't pretend you are concerned about my 'hood when you really here to send a coded message that we pretend to care but we only want the sympathetic white female vote 'cause you care about "these people" when we don't but we know you like seeing us here pretending.

  • N.Wells on September 18, 2012 9:53 AM:

    On the positive side, Mitt was absolutely masterful at getting people to stop talking about his Libyan attacks debacle. :)

  • AndThenThere'sThat on September 18, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Mitt needs to release his tax records. How do we know he's not some secret Obama supporter?

  • davidp on September 18, 2012 9:56 AM:

    The first action of President Romney should be to have Ayn Rand added to Mount Rushmore.

  • gregor on September 18, 2012 9:57 AM:

    Reminiscent of the rich in the third world countries who are oh so concerned about the welfare of the help only because of the inconvenience that the absence of the servants will bring to their cushy lives.

  • Gandalf on September 18, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Who are those 47%? In this country there are over 110 million people who are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65. I'd make a suggestion to all the aging teabaggers. Pay attention. Also real class warfare would be in this country a lot messier than it's ever been in history. It seems that the wealthy aren't just satisfied with the largest piece of the pie. They want all of it. And when you get right down to it that's pathetic. I'd bet if aliens from another world obseve us they must just be bewildered at how poorly we treat each other here.

  • Marc Montefusco on September 18, 2012 10:10 AM:

    Offered for what it's worth: "Boca Raton" translates to "Mouth of the Rat".

  • Diane Rodriguez on September 18, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Romney has "been taken care of" by the government through dodging taxes for a long while. He won't release tax records because the information might be used against him. Sounds like the statement of someone who sees himself as a "victim".

    The most important target in this election is getting people registered and to the polls. Romney is virtually defeating himself if the vote turns out.

  • AbijahL on September 18, 2012 10:29 AM:

    In my experience a lot of the 47% don't realize they are members since they see themselves paying taxes. They are quite sure that the 47% are all Blah people. There is always a troll telling Obama supporters to "get a job. Conversely, I know a lot of people who are either working in professional jobs or retired wealthy who have every intention of voting for BO again.

  • jpeckjr on September 18, 2012 10:37 AM:

    I have always thought the "people on welfare" trope was more about class than about race. "You see, it's those poor people who are ruining this country, not us rich people." That's the real message here.

    His remark "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives," is the most troubling to me. He may have thought he was communicating an election strategy -- I'm not going to try to get their votes. Instead, he communicated he has no intention of being President of the whole country, of all the people.

    Captcha code: Beelzebub. tingsft. Don't know who tingsft is, but Beelzebub is the Devil's assistant.

  • Mimikatz on September 18, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Very wealthy people, as exe,plucked by Mitt Romney, pay a much lower share of their income in taxes. And many of them pay no federal income taxes at all. Mitt wants to exacerbate this trend. Moreover, many got wealthy from government contracts, tax preferences, subsidies and other advantages provided by the government. many low income people work very, very hard at jobs that require physical work not sitting behind a desk deciding how to screw people out of what little they have. And just what has Mitt been doing the last 6 years? Living off his investments and running for President.

    Not only does he not understand government, he doesn't understand how the other 99% live. What a Putz.

  • Peter C on September 18, 2012 10:40 AM:

    David Brooks is a propagandist - full stop. When Scott Walker needed some cover about his surprise attack on public sector unions, Brooks was there to sell the line that Walker had made it a part of his campaign (he hadn't) and that no one should have been surprised when Walker made public sector unions illegal in Wisconsin. Brook's NY Time editorial was the first out of the gate, ready to counter the 'bait-and-switch' criticism of a Republican who ran a 'standard' campaign and then implemented an extreme-right-wing agenda. The Republicans haul out Brooks when they want to bolster one of their own who has spoken that which must be secret. He's the master of 'damning with faint praise' or 'reinforcing with faint criticism'. He get trotted out when the Republicans want to appear like reasonable adults, even though they seldom act like them.

    The danger of playing the "see! even one of them disagrees with this!" game is that we allow the 'reinforce with faint criticism' ploy when we could be pulling out our righteous indignation and hitting them all with the full force of the arguments against them. When the Republicans are in power, Brooks leaves his scuples at the door and puts his superior-smirk face on.

  • jonH on September 18, 2012 10:53 AM:

    In The Big Sleep, Bogart gets the line:
    You know what he's gonna do [...]? He'll beat my teeth out then kick me in the stomach for mumbling.

    He could be describing the thug Mittens -- he'll keep your wages low through union busting, etc., then whine about how little your're paying in income taxes,

  • TCinLA on September 18, 2012 11:17 AM:

    Actually, the "takers" are Romney and every one of the greedy pigs who were at his meeting.

    I think Romney has invented his own religion: Morontology.

  • boatboy_srq on September 18, 2012 11:30 AM:

    I think Romney has invented his own religion: Morontology.

    Maybe that's why the GOTea convention was in Tampa: it put it close enough to Clearwater for Dianetes (that IS what subscribers to Dianetics have, isn't it?) to be injected into the party Kool-Aid.

    Captcha: eatorise Grogan. I'm not making this up.

  • bdop4 on September 18, 2012 11:38 AM:

    This should result in a renewed call for Mitt to release his tax returns. Just how much does he pay in taxes? Is he a maker or a taker?

  • MuddyLee on September 18, 2012 11:44 AM:

    There are a lot of white southerners and evangelicals in that 47%, Mitt. Maybe they used to pay federal taxes but now they are unemployed or retired, maybe even worried about the nursing home expenses they will be facing if they live to be 85. Maybe they will now wise up and realize that as part of the 47 percent, THEY are not the people the modern republican party (not worthy of capitalization) cares about. Too bad you are not more like your dad and mom, Mitt.

  • bigtuna on September 18, 2012 11:51 AM:

    Four thoughts on the Boca moment

    1. For all thier supposedly smarts, and his MBA, and business experience, and presumably staffers who might have had a clue, why could they not determine from a basic statistical table that this 47% number, that I sure is whipped up by the crazy blogots, is comprised largely of people over 65 on limited income [about half of the 47%, I think], working poor - who do not pay federal taxes because of various progressive aspects of the federal tax code - some done BY BUSH; the very very poor, and the young.

    And - if I remember, some of the folks over 65 don't pay taxes due to an exemption on pension income, no? Isn't this a place Ryan would supposedly have to go after to reduce rates?

    2. Even if they did pay some more federal taxes, what difference would it make? They could be taxed into the pooor house, and it wouldn't really make a difference for the federal budget.

    3. The unawareness that we pay sales taxes, excise taxes, taxes on our utility bills, taxes at the state level, etc., show how clueless Willard, and the fellow travelers, are.

    4. I have covered this before. Some folks [not many here, I will admit] are surprised, because "hee seems like a nice guy" blah blah blah. His statements ARE COMPLETELY IN LINE with his upbringing as a well moneyed white guy in corporate america. ADD to this his relatively high standing as a former mormon bishop, and you get this. Do not underestimate the deep down embedded disdain for the "others" and the non righteous, the non hard workers, who should recive some of our sympathy, but not much. In part "they" are weak. By leading a better life [oh, and if the convereted to the LDS faith, more the better], "they" would work harder, and make more of an effort, "they" will succeed. It is more than a religion; it is a socio-religious-economic-poltical-corporate entity like no other in the US.

    btw - kind of funny that he is in Utah today fund raising.

  • Joe Friday on September 18, 2012 11:52 AM:

    BROOKS: "The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees."

    Actually, they are the Rich & Corporate.

    The real "entitlement state" or 'welfare state' is all the Corporate Welfare and tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate, which is GARGANTUAN contrasted with what is spent on Poor people.

  • JM917 on September 18, 2012 12:45 PM:

    The Democrats must nationalize this election. Make every Republican congressional/senatorial incumbent or candidate defend the Romney/Ryan agenda and the views expressed in Romney's (for once) candid and truthful video. Make every Republican bear responsibility for supporting the Ryan budget. Ensure that every voter, even in the reddest of Red states, knows that this election is a referendum on what Romney, Ryan, and their 1% SuperPAC paymasters plan for the country--and specifically for the "47%" whom Romney scorns as freeloading "takers." That includes Social Security beneficiaries and every last retiree mooching off Medicare. Let NO Republican candidate escape co-responsibility for what Romney and Ryan so OPENLY and unashamedly advocate.

    Nationalize this election, and send the Republican Party as it now exists the way of the post-1800 Federalists!

  • advocatethis on September 18, 2012 1:40 PM:

    The thing that works in Romney's favor is that many, if not most, of the people in that 47% don't recognize themselves as being there. Those retired white people on Medicare and Social Security don't think he's taking about them. The middle class homeowner who has no federal tax liability after writing off his mortgage doesn't think he is, either. Those people, as much as the rich people Mitt was directly addressing, think the problem is those "other" people.

  • Anonymous on September 18, 2012 2:29 PM:

    Agree with others here who say that many of the 47% don't recognize themselves as part of that group. How do we convince them? Examples? Especially the tea partiers who want to keep the government away from their Medicare and Social Security. Let's get specific here.

    I worked for a while in a tax prep office and there were many many folks who worked their tails off at one or more jobs and made no more than $30K, supporting a family on that limited income. They owed no income tax because of the tax code. Does Mitt really want to tell those workers that they are freeloaders? That they and their families are nothing, contribute nothing? Perhaps if these low income workers all took the same day off people would wake up. Of course that won't happen, people can't afford it.

    Even middle class earners (incl myself) who do pay income taxes get tax breaks by itemizing, taking credits for children, education, etc. Are we worthy of Romney's scorn as well? What about all of those high earners (over $100K) who also pay no income taxes due to the tax code? Are they freeloaders too? What work is considered worthy and what is not? How do we define "success"?

    How about we talk about corporate welfare? Those who pay a lower rate like Mitt himself? Those who benefit from investments in the war machine without making any personal sacrifices themselves (ie serving in the military)? Those who work in the government and then make a killing by becoming lobbyists? Those who take a government salary & benefits (many in congress) but refuse to do any meaningful work? By all means, let's have this conversation!

  • WW on September 18, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Romney's toast alright. Imagine that -- a politician? Telling the TRUTH? Finished.

    Just ask Julia...

  • Peter Principle on September 18, 2012 3:40 PM:

    "And having dismissed 47% of the American people as hopeless and worthless, he sure hasnít left himself much of a margin of error."

    This is the part of the "lucky ducky" meme that I don't get. If the "takers" really are 47% of the electorate -- or even more, since everyone who voted for Obama in 2008 is by definition a social parasite -- then how do the conservatives ever expect to win?

    After all, a candidate who starts out with a rock solid base of 47% is in pretty solid shape -- especially since, according to conservatives, the army of moochers keeps getting bigger all the time.

    Working yourself and your supporters into a state of existential despair is not generally considered a winning political strategy.

  • A on September 18, 2012 3:51 PM:

    I am in total agreement with the right-wingers who "want this debate." The closer we all look at the economics underlying our tax code and our whole economy, the more we will see that the real parasites are the so-called "job creators."

  • Life5678 on September 18, 2012 3:59 PM:

    I wish you could see how your article reads from the bird's eye view, from an Independent voter. You come off as very self righteous, and clearly aiming at the 47%, which is your reader base. What I find amazing is that you don't even point out the truly ALARMING points of what Romney said, which is that 47% of Americans don't pay ANY income tax. There is seriously something wrong with that picture. As alarming is the statistic that 47% of America is receiving public assistance. u6 unemployment is 15.9%. 16 million children are on food stamps, which means they are malnourished. That's OK with you and your readers? I'd think you would want people to work, to have good jobs and be able to feed their children. Looking at the big picture, you have some serious holes in your rhetoric.

  • coolie on September 18, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Romney Took $77,000 Tax Deduction For His Dancing Horse.. And you think Seniors, veterans are asking for much? you are shame and sham.

  • grandpa john on September 18, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Whats amusing as hell is the fact that he is lying again. Those 47% are not all Obama voters. Balloon Juice has a map up that shows the top ten states of non federal income tax payers. Guess what, they are ALL red states, so Mitt is defaming the people who are his supporters.