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Daniels and the 47% Remarks

Mitch Daniels reflected on Republican failings, but didn’t go quite far enough in his explanation of why the Romney 47% remarks were so wrong. He said:

A chronic disease of the Republican Party is the insistence on speaking in abstractions, or worse yet in language that offers no clue, no argument that the principles of liberty are far better for people at the bottom than the statist alternatives.

Daniels correctly understands that disparaging 47% of the people as irresponsible victims because they don’t pay income tax was incredibly insulting and politically disastrous, but in the comments in this report he doesn’t touch on how these remarks contradicted an appeal based on principles of liberty. A Republican candidate interested in promoting a message of liberty wouldn’t see the non-payment of a certain kind of federal tax as a moral failing or proof of dependency and irresponsibility. On the contrary, he would have been pleased that the tax burden is so relatively light, and he would have understood that the lightness of that burden was a legacy of decades of his party’s policies. The Romney vision was that people ought to aspire to paying income tax, as if it were a marker of some sort of virtue, and that there was nothing else in what he was proposing that would cause them to support him. Naturally, a vision that stunted and focused on nothing but material reasons for political loyalties was never going to appeal to anyone outside guaranteed core supporters. The problem in that case was not that Romney’s language was too abstract, but that it was extremely specific and detailed about the people that he was writing off.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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