Sometimes I agonize over whether to write editorials about huge national news, particularly if my opinion is well-represented in easily accessible media. But there's just no way I can keep CityBeat out of the chorus of commentary on Mitt Romney's remarks at a May fundraiser that Mother Jones' David Corn brought to national attention on Monday.
After all, Romney was talking about me. Except that he wasn't, really. You see, his thinking is all jumbled up.
Romney said that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax, and those are the people, he said, who are safely deposited in Barack Obama's electorate bank. They are "dependent upon government [and] believe that they are victims [and] believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, [and] believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
Hold on. I am absolutely an Obama voter. But I pay income tax. I pay for my own food. I pay my own rent. I pay for healthcare. As far as I know, I'm not dependent on the government for anything. All I expect from the government is to send the police or paramedics if I'm in distress, to pave the roads and make sure the bridges don't fall down, to make sure medication and food is safe to consume, among other things. And I pay for all that, not to mention paying for other people's kids to get educated, which I understand will benefit me indirectly, through the betterment of the society in which I live.
And there are a lot of others like me who plan to vote for Obama. So, if Romney were right when he said that everyone who pays no net federal income tax is part of Team Obama, he'd have no reason to continue to campaign—he'd probably get about 25 percent of the vote. But, of course, he's mixing up two different groups of people. Millions of people who don't pay federal income tax will, for whatever reason, vote for Romney.
If the electorate were paying close attention to what Romney said, that number would get much lower, because he's insulting many of his own voters. He's saying that seniors and veterans and social conservatives who are struggling economically are a bunch of lazy moochers who have no desire to contribute. A significant chunk of the lower-middle class pays no federal income tax, thanks to a progressive tax code and tax credits championed by both political parties.
This is the real class war. Romney's remarks were delivered to a room full of very wealthy Republican donors whom the candidate apparently believes want to see a continued assault on government assistance. While it's true that the amount of money that funds entitlements has increased in recent decades—under the leadership of both parties—the irony is that, through it all, it's the wealthy who have dramatically boosted their share of total personal income while the middle class has struggled to keep pace with inflation and more people have fallen into poverty. And it's the wealthy—personified by Romney himself—who game the tax system for their own benefit by sheltering vast amounts of their income, thanks to loopholes created amid this country's vulgar lobbyist-donor-electoral-political complex.
Interestingly, while attacks on government assistance have long been bread-and-butter for Republican candidates, Romney just last week decried the widening gap between rich and poor. So, despite the claims I heard this week that Romney, in his private comments, was merely tapping into popular anger over entitlements, his campaign obviously believes that swing voters are more concerned about rich folks making off with the cash. Romney's unearthed remarks to donors blow last week's public rhetoric out of the water.
In an otherwise critical piece, center-right columnist David Brooks this week suggested that the guy who was talking to donors wasn't the real Romney. But who can tell who the real Romney is—or even if there is a real Romney in that shell of a man? After all, history shows that he'll be whomever he thinks he needs to be in order to get elected.
On the cover of CityBeat's Sept. 5 issue, we published an illustration depicting Romney as a sort of Trojan horse, with little Republicans pouring out of him. The question is, what would they do were they to get past the White House gates? The rich people in the room at that fundraiser were those little Republicans emerging from the Trojan Romney, and I think we learned much from Romney's remarks about what they think of nearly half of the U.S. population.