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Romney’s Flesh Wound

(… in the Black Knight sense.)

By now, you’ve all seen or heard about Romney’s “47 percent” video, from an off-the-record speech he gave to GOP donors. If not, here’s the money quote:

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.

A few initial thoughts:

1. Scott Galupo is onto something:

So there you have it: Mitt Romney is just another practitioner of what I call reverse class warfare: the mindset that our economy would take off if everyone had “skin in the game” and wealth were even more concentrated at the top than it already is.

In the video, Romney is expressing a deeply ingrained belief among the Republican rank-and-file. The party is now virtually defined by reverse class warfare. It decries the “victim mentality” — yet it claims victimhood at the hands of the poor. It exudes contempt and disdain for fellow citizens —  yet it accuses the president of “pitting Americans against each other.”

2. Having said that, I know lots of people who aren’t rich or anywhere close to it, but who probably believe what he’s saying. These are the kind of conservatives who tell the government to keep its filthy government hands off of their favored government programs. As Bruce Bartlett once wrote:

But the fact is that millions of Americans benefit from government programs without realizing it. Indeed, research by Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler shows that many recipients of government benefits don’t believe that they have received any benefits.

“Welfare” equals entitlements that People Not Like Us get from the government; what subsidies People Like Us get from the government are things that are rightfully Ours. You see?

3. Along those lines, here’s demographer Nicholas Eberstadt on the massive growth in entitlements:

In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat.

This is in keeping with the basic facts of the time: Notwithstanding the criticisms of “big government” that emanated from their Oval Offices from time to time, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush presided over especially lavish expansions of the American entitlement state. Irrespective of the reputations and the rhetoric of the Democratic and Republican parties today, the empirical correspondence between Republican presidencies and turbocharged entitlement expenditures should underscore the unsettling truth that both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending.

Many, many Republicans committed to Mitt Romney think of themselves as the productive who are being robbed by the unproductive. The real story is a lot more complicated. The point is, they don’t see themselves as part of the 47 percent dissed by Romney. At NR, John O’Sullivan comes up with a strategy for how Romney could make this video release work for his campaign.

4. This is, obviously, a 2012 GOP version of Obama’s 2008 “bitter clingers” speech to Democratic donors:

Ross Douthat today tweeted something characteristically smart:

5. My reaction to listening to excerpts from Obama’s “bitter clingers” speech: That guy doesn’t understand or like people like me and mine. My reaction to listening to excerpts from Romney’s “47 percent” speech: That guy doesn’t understand or like people like me and mine. 

One of these guys will be president for the next four years. Dammit.

6. My initial sense was that this video wouldn’t hurt Romney any more than “bitter clingers” hurt Obama. But “bitter clingers” came in April 2008, which gave Obama a lot more time to recover before Election Day. On the other hand, according to the most recent CBS/NYT poll of likely voters, Romney has a significant lead over Obama with independents, which may give him some cushion. On the third hand, at this time in the 2008 cycle, John McCain, coming off a successful convention, was much farther ahead with independents than Romney is today.


7. Well, this kind of reaction is basically lopping off Romney’s arm:

UPDATE.2: Iowahawk, you is funny:

UPDATE.3:Ramesh Ponnuru:

There are many things to worry about in this world. The number of people paying income tax isn’t one of them.

And from that 2011 Ponnuru article in National Review, debunking the 47 percent claim:

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin echoes this concern. “We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition,” he said in a recent speech to the Heritage Foundation.

Paul Ryan — I wonder whatever happened to him?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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