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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 [1]:

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.

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16 Comments To "Daniels and the 47% Remarks"

#1 Comment By William Dalton On December 3, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

Regardless of what Mitt Romney or Mitch Daniels has to say on the subject, the problem of there being 47% of Americans who don’t pay Federal Income Taxes is not that this large segment of the population are net takers from Uncle Sam or are irresponsible leeches on society. The problem is that for this 47% of the electorate the traditional Republican campaign platform of keeping income taxes low and rates lower has become meaningless. Unless you buy the argument that lowering the tax rates will improve economic conditions that will result in greater earnings for all Americans, particularly those whose present earnings are so low as to put them under the threshold of paying taxes at their current rates and system of deductions, the Republican platform will hold no appeal. Republicans will need to find other issues on which to campaign in order to win the votes of these 47%. Small government libertarians and social conservatives have both been elements of the Republican coalition whose policies may attract greater numbers of voters for whom the question of income tax rates are irrelevant. But Romney made libertarians persona non grata and paid to social conservatives lip service only, as was evident in the fact that he spoke openly of having to write off the 47%. I don’t know if Mitch Daniels understands this any better than Mitt.

#2 Comment By EngineerScotty On December 3, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

Mitch commits the same error decries when he utters the word “statist”.

It’s a word that libertarians like to throw out there, usually to defame liberals, implying that the latter seek (as a primary goal) to enlarge the state.

Liberals, for the most part, aren’t interested in growing government for government’s sake; the size of the state is not a primary concern. Liberals are motivated by specific social goals concerning economic justice–and in many cases (though not all), things like extensive regulatory regimes, progressive taxation, and expanded social welfare programs are seen as means to those ends. Ignoring a few union-captured municipalities, liberal policies aren’t designed for the purpose of maximizing the number of persons on the government payroll; they are designed to promote the general welfare, particularly for those who would be unable to purchase equivalent levels of service on the private market.

If Daniels means to argue that the private sector is better at doing things such as providing universal, comprehensive education and healthcare, ensuring people don’t starve in the streets, reducing pollution, and keeping unsafe products off the shelves, have at it–though that’s a tough argument to make, as it is presently abstract (the number of large-scale libertarian societies that deliver on these sorts of promises is zero). There are plenty of places where government isn’t very effective that might be open to such arguments.

But enough with the “statist” strawman. It betrays a failure to understand what motivates the other side, and those who vote for them.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 3, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

The problem for a conservative is that giving in to liberals in any ,atter just seems to breed mor giving in.

There is just no end to what liberals are willing to consue to get their way. None. So having to admit something as problenmatic as our candidate a good man — uttered something in pvt – that semed to suggest he was writing off half of the country while disparging them at the sme time is painful.

Now that the election is over there’s a palpable sense that the flood gates are about to burst on every front liberals advocate.

I agree he did not go far enough and in a sense his wording still makes one cringe just a bit.

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On December 3, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

And those conservatives with a bone to pick, who were shut out and themselves disparaged during the Bush years seem heck bent on jumping on that band wagon.

I am very sympathetic and empathetic to that feeling of “we told you so.” And the desire for revenge — but I think some caution should be exercised because the consequences of jumping on that wagon — may not be what you think. — as if I know what you think.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 3, 2012 @ 10:36 pm

These days, when Republicans speak of “liberty” I most often think of the “freedom” of the mad elephant to trample everyone else underfoot.

#6 Comment By J DeSales On December 3, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

Mayhap those crying “class warfare” doth protest too much?

#7 Comment By Dakarian On December 4, 2012 @ 4:37 am


“that semed to suggest he was writing off half of the country while disparging them at the sme time is painful.”

‘seemed’ He flat out said in the same paragraph that 47% rely on government, will prefer Obama no matter what, and cannot be reasoned with.

There’s no ‘seemed’ about it. It insults those who take no government assistance and voted for Obama. it insults those that are unemployed, or are seniors, or are in the military (aka, most of the 47% of households who get assistance) who voted for Romney, or hate both of them. It insults the whole lot of them in saying that they are best left ignored and left alone.

It was painful to hear those words from him. it was DEEPLY painful to realize that they were supposed to be hidden away among the elite never to be heard by the public. If he had his way, he would’ve been able to say that then turn to the public and smile, pretending that none of those ideas ever existed.

As for the main point, that’s a similar mindset that deeply damages Christians. Many Christians hold a very fragile believe in God, a very particular one that is so clean and nice until a question such as “Why did God allow bad things to happen?” Such Christians attempt to silence such talk every moment they can. They do so because if they ever try to accept the question as worthy of being asked, they find their entire view on God shatters under the weight, leaving them with nothing but a hollow shell and forced to concede any other idea, right down to rejecting God all together. Thus “If I allow one thing, they take everything.”

It’s a sign of an incomplete faith. Christianity isn’t so weak that it can’t handle tough questions. It CAN answer those questions, though it will require deep knowledge on how God works and how He fits with what happens in this world. It requires opening your mind not just being willing to question, but being willing to let Him answer. A properly assembled faith can allow a question, and can even allow a shift without throwing everything away.

It is the same with many in the Left. Some believed in the Minimum Wage until someone showed them the issues with it. It caused them to question what they knew but not simply abandon it: instead they sought answers and found them within Leftish beliefs, though sometimes with a more Central mindset.

The question is, why doesn’t this happen among the Right? Why is putting any question result in an utter destruction of everything you know and believe? Why is it that conservatism, in your eyes, can only survive if those that don’t believe in it are Saturday morning cartoon villans, never to be accepted by the ‘heros’?

I’m not saying the freefall doesn’t happen. I can’t remember seeing anyone of the Left fully take up the mantle of the Right (at most they go Center) while I have seen conservatives become quite liberal (those that didn’t go libertarian). The question is, are conservatives fragile with how they hold their beliefs, or is the belief itself fragile as glass and unable to handle a spotlight?

#8 Comment By An Anachronistic Apostle On December 4, 2012 @ 7:48 am

But enough with the “statist” strawman. It betrays a failure to understand what motivates the other side, and those who vote for them.

Yes, but it would be impolitic and impolite to expose the undies, by asserting that that the underlying motivations are a “secular works-righteousness,” “the maintenance of power, so as to handsomely pay off your cooperating cronies,” “a penchant for pandering,” and “keeping the roiling masses reasonably happy and worshipful, by feeding them bread, circuses, small change and cell-phones.”

So “statist,” as a shorthand convenience, will do.

#9 Comment By ThoughtCrime On December 4, 2012 @ 8:41 am

EngineerScotty, speaking of strawmen, you are making a whole bunch yourself. Unless you sincerely believe that before governments were handing out free food to people, they were starving on the streets, it is not back by historical evidence, it is frankly rubbish to believe that (the facts point to the opposite, the worst starvations happened under the biggest governments). The same applies to pollution (again the worst pollution happened under the biggest goverments). As for health care, strange how the costs kept going up as the goverment got ever more involved, unless you believe that no government has actually gotten involved until only a few years ago.

#10 Comment By Mightypeon On December 4, 2012 @ 11:43 am

ThoughtCrime, the US has, of any advanced democracy, the least “gouverment based” Health Care system. It is also the most expensive system and near the bottom in terms of achievements (such as in actually preventing deaths that would have been amendable to health care, or preventing medical bankrupcies, or keeping the workforce relativly healthy).

Obamacare will propably get you the worst of 2 worlds efficiency wise, since its basically what certain lobbyists wanted.

Single payer systems work in practice, mixed single payer systems work in practice, a side by side of private and public non profit ensurers works in practice, Obamacare has no direct precedent and seems like adding gouverment force to the uninsured.

One should also note that, even in the USA, State based Medicare and medicaid pay less of their money for administration than the oh so efficient private insurers.

#11 Comment By icarusr On December 4, 2012 @ 11:55 am

“Republicans will need to find other issues on which to campaign in order to win the votes of these 47%.”

As has been demonstrated time again, Romney’s 47% actually votes overwhemingly in favour of Republicans. Republicans run on the “myth” of 47% moochers in order to roil the very same 47% who live off the government. Classic class warfare: “Get your government hands off my Medicare.”

“As for health care, strange how the costs kept going up as the goverment got ever more involved,”

Er, this is serious? Health care costs around the world are going up because of 1) aging populations, 2) cost of drugs, mostly arising out of patents, and 3) costs of technological development. Health care costs in the US are going up faster than anywhere else, including in all those countries that have state-funded health care, for three reasons:

1) Untrammeled competition in the marketplace is, by definition, meant to increase demand. When you have ads for drugs directed at patients, you are necessarily increasing demand for those drugs – that is the point. Increased demand, without discipline on prices, results in increased costs. This brings me to the second point.

2) When a Republican President expanded Medicare and a Republican Congress passed it, specifically in order to screw the public purse for the benefit of private gain, they required that the government of the United States may not use its bargaining power to reduce the cost of drugs. So the only constraint on prices – the monopsony power of the government for Medicare D benefits – was removed. Frankly, after this comic flouting of basic market principles, no Republican has the moral right to complain about health care costs.

3) The ACA does in fact seek to use the government’s bargaining power to reduce costs for Medicare beneficiaries. In a cynical move that would put Machiavelli to shame, these costs savings were portrayed as cuts and Romney actually proposed to “restore” those “cuts” to Medicare. Republicans have nothing at all to teach Democrats, or liberals, on cost containment in the health care field.

But don’t let facts stop you from making silly comments.

#12 Comment By Rob in CT On December 4, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

It’s always fun to bring up the history of the EITC when somebody starts ranting about people not paying income taxes.

But mostly, I stick with this: the problem, to the extent it’s a problem, is that ~47% of filers don’t make very much money. Fix that and you fix the “problem” of forty-someodd percent of the population not owing federal income taxes [always good to note that payroll taxes, which are a big deal, are typically ignored in this argument, as are various other taxes].

#13 Comment By beejeez On December 4, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

Those of you attacking Scotty are going to be increasingly disappointed with and alienated from American politics for many years to come. Because Scotty is representative of better educated, more worldly generations of Americans, and they are not conservative, at least not in the way Repubicans understand the term. They are skeptical of government, but more skeptical of laissez-faire capitalism. And fairly or not, they are really not going to be conservative if they don’t start getting stinking rich soon.

American-style conservatism is over. Its survival as a respectable ideology is being propped up with sheer financial power and political opportunism, and not with respectable and (most importantly) respectful argument. The bogeymen of socialism — Mao, Stalin, whoever — have been gone a long, long time. Arguing that a democracy adopting some mildly socialistic measures is succumbing to their kind of dictatorship is not only dishonest; it’s boringly dishonest.

The GOP can coast along, crankily gumming things up as the minority party for a long time. But its future as a vital force in shaping the country is nonexistent.

#14 Comment By libarbarian On December 4, 2012 @ 5:12 pm


My grandfather worked in a grocery during the Great Depression. He saw lots of elderly neighbors buying catfood. He knew they didn’t own any cats.

Starving in the streets? No. Eating catfood? Why don’t you try it and let me know what you think.

#15 Comment By IanH On December 5, 2012 @ 1:04 am

“Because Scotty is representative of better educated, more worldly generations of Americans, and they are not conservative, at least not in the way Repubicans understand the term.”

No, they’re a bunch of self-righteous, pompous twits who thrive off of hating their fellow countrymen.

Just be warned, we’re not going to tolerate that for much longer.

#16 Comment By Jane Hanson On December 5, 2012 @ 6:36 am


“Just be warned, we’re not going to tolerate that for much longer.”

I would like to know exactly what you mean by what sounds like a threat of violence in response to what you think are others’ inappropriately superior attitudes. You have every right to feel pissed off and insulted rather than trying to understand why some people might think, for example, that Todd Akin voters have some kind of handicap–it’s a free country in that sense. But I sincerely hope this isn’t what you & yours needed all the guns for.