Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We go into elections with the Republicans we have

What is it about politicians when they get in these fundraisers and start opining on who isn't going to vote for them. In 2008 Barack Obama was recorded telling donors that some Pennsylvania Democrats were bitterly clinging to their religion and guns and are filled with antipathy to "people who aren't like them," immigrants or free trade "as a way to explain their frustrations." It displayed an amazing contempt for those voters who were voting for Hillary Clinton instead of him. There was a big fuss and then it died down to be remembered only by those of us who don't like Obama.

Now comes this audio clip of Mitt Romney musing to his wealthy donors that 47% of the electorate wouldn't vote for him because they don't pay taxes and think they're entitled to what the government provides for them.
“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…

“And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49 … he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”
I have to say that my first reaction to reading and hearing this video was the same as Josh Barro, Romney just lost the election. He's already behind and fighting the image that he's too rich to relate to average people. Saying that these people regard themselves as victims and so won't support him just comes off as contemptuous.

As many have pointed out, this group of 47% do pay payroll taxes, if not income taxes. Conservatives have been concerned about what it will mean for our society if close to half are not personally invested in what the government does with our tax dollars because it is their money and instead are just looking to the government for what they receive. This is the concern that Romney was referring to but he just comes off so aloof from those voters. And not all of them vote Democratic.

Of course, this will be all the media will be talking about this week. They'll play the clip over and over until we have it memorized. The Obama team will run ads to make sure that those who aren't watching cable news hear it. With an election as close as this one is set to be, it's hard to see how he recovers.

Here is some of the reaction among conservatives.

Jonah Goldberg writes his reactions on what he calls Freeloadeerdammerung, saying he thinks that these sorts of "gaffes" "rarely seem as dvastating as partisan opponents hope." Well, that is true of Democratic gaffes, not Republican ones. Remember "macaca?" Goldberg continues,
Ultimately Romney’s division of the electorate has an odd Marxist twang to it, as if those dependent on government are simply voting their naked economic self-interest. Traditionally, it’s the Left that argues, a la Thomas Frank, that voting is — or should be — about your cold economic self-interest and nothing more. Thankfully, that’s not how most people vote, nor should it be. After all, Obama was the preferred candidate of Wall Street and the wealthy in 2008. Meanwhile, McCain was the preferred candidate of retirees — i.e., a huge chunk of the people who don’t pay income taxes.

Which raises the other, bigger, problem with the blanket derogation of people who don’t pay income taxes. Undoubtedly moochers and layabouts are overrepresented in the ranks of the non-filers of income taxes. But so are the working poor (thanks to, among other things, the Earned Income Tax Credit), retirees, college students, et al. Saying that (most) moochers don’t pay income taxes is probably true. But it’s not at all clear that most people who don’t pay income taxes are moochers. Obama would be out of cash already if no 1 percenters supported him. And Romney would lose the election several times over if every person who doesn’t pay income taxes refused to vote for him.

But that won’t happen. Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he’s saying it badly. Some may even welcome a little spark and snark from a guy who so often seems so polished he has no rough edges. Lots of people, most importantly lots of independents, understand the basic and irrefutable point that there are too many people who feel entitled to consume a lot more tax dollars than they contribute. Some 60 percent of households get more from government than they pay in. They all understand that taxing the top 1 percent even more won’t change that, nor will it fix our fundamental problems. Some people — even people who don’t pay income taxes — will just hear Romney being passionate about fixing this imbalance and vote for him because of it. What’s best for the country, and not just for them, will be foremost in their minds.

No, I don’t think this video is good news for Romney. But if Romney showed a little more of the spirit he shows in this video, I’m not sure it wouldn’t help.
Matt Lewis writes,
There is a "Life of Julia" worldview that says government should take care of you from cradle to grave. That deserves discussion.
Yes, it does, but don't expect it.

David Brooks calls him "Thurston Howell Romney."
This 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.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.

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.
Daniel Foster has thoughts on what Romney could have said,
Funnily enough, before Romney’s presser I e-mailed a GOP political operative friend and suggested that Romney say something like the following:
I said they probably wouldn’t vote for me. I never said I didn’t want to help them. I never said I wouldn’t do everything I could as president to make sure that 1 in 7 of them are not on foodstamps, to get jobs for the 8 percent who can’t find them and the countless more who’ve given up.
Romney doesn’t exactly do it as elegantly (which is why they pay me the big bucks) but he does gesture at some of this. I found the presser not horrible, which is about as much praise as I can muster right now.

I don’t think there is any way to spin the release of this video as a positive for Romney, but I do think — and I said as much on Twitter — that now that it has happened, Romney’s only play is to turn into the approaching torpedoes at flank speed, Marko Ramius style.
Ann Althouse isn't impressed with how awful these comments are.
Presented at Mother Jones as if it's quite disturbing, but I don't see anything bad in there at all....And then he says he can't "worry about those people" as he tries to win votes, because they will never be convinced. He's not saying he doesn't care about them as citizens and human beings, just that he won't devote any attention to trying to cull some of their votes.
Doug Ross reminds us of the New York Times story by Thomas Edsall from last year about how Obama's campaing was abandoning white working-class voters. That might be true, but we don't have video of Obama musing about how he doesn't expect to get the votes of white working class voters. We've always seen how having the video or audio makes a lot of difference in these kerfuffles.

Allahpundit is skeptical that voters will pay much attention this story.
The dirty little secret of most “controversial” political statements is that voters pay them little mind, especially when they’re preoccupied with bread-and-butter issues. The GOP spent three days in Tampa hammering Obama for the “you didn’t build that” line and a fat lot of good it did them in vaulting Romney past O in the polls. Then again, the GOP didn’t have a media megaphone like the one that’s going to be amplifying this for the rest of the week....
Certainly, the Obama campaign’s never done anything to tout the sort of cradle-to-grave dependency that Romney describes here. I think David French’s recent post about the “bookends” that compose the modern liberal coalition is closer to the mark than Romney’s familiar makers-and-takers formulation here, but he was at a fundraiser and tossing red meat and I guess wanted it to be as red as possible. As for his claim that 47 percent pay no income tax, it’s true but carries lots of caveats. Ramesh Ponnuru wrote an insightful piece about last year; this new article from National Journal is worth reading too. Two political difficulties here. One: While some Obama supporters may not pay federal income tax, they still pay federal payroll tax and may well pay state and city taxes. They do contribute something to government. Two: A lot of pro-Republican working-class voters pay no income tax due to the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a lot of pro-Republican seniors pay no income tax because most or all of their income is Social Security. Not sure how either of those groups will react to Romney’s critique of O’s fans, but my hunch is that Ben Domenech’s right in believing that no one really thinks they’re part of the 47 percent. Everyone thinks they’re a “maker,” not a “taker,” due to whatever little tax they pay, so when Mitt lays into freeloaders, even people who pay no income tax think he’s talking about someone else. It’s sort of the flip side of senior citizens saying that America needs small government while telling politicians “Hands off my Medicare.” I doubt it’ll end up hurting Romney badly, but the media will do its level best. Buckle up! (links in original)
I'd like to believe that it won't make a difference but I just have my doubts. Any week spent talking about how distant Romney is from ordinary Americans is a week when we're not discussing the terrible economy that Obama's policies have mired us in and they're ludicrous claims about how the attack on the Benghazi consulate was not about Islamic terrorism aimed at striking at America on 9/11 and the failures of Obama's outreach to the Muslim world.

Carol Platt Leibau doesn't think that Romney is wrong.
The problem with that gaffe was that it showed a fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance of rural Americans, accusing them of "cling[ing]" to guns, religion or bigotry because of job-loss-related frustrations. It showed a level of contempt and ignorance that was truly breathtaking and truly at odds with the "healer" Obama presented himself as being.

Here, however, what exactly has Romney got wrong? Unlike Obama, he didn't accuse anyone of bigotry. Doesn't Obama's base on the left believe that they're victims (feminists and Jeremiah Wright come to mind here), and/or that people are entitled to housing, health care, food - and that the government has a responsibility to provide it for them? Aren't these the politicians (or the voters) who scream like their hair's on fire when there's even a mention of cutting "entitlements"? And isn't it a fact that 47% of people do pay no federal income tax -- and yet a sizable percentage of them nonetheless believe (and are encouraged by people like Barack Obama to believe!) that those who are paying aren't contributing "their fair share"? Don't Democrats say this stuff all the time? So where is the big scandal?

No doubt all 47% of non-federal-tax-payers do NOT believe that are entitled to all those things; no doubt some people who are paying some income tax believe that people are. Using 47% as a sort of shorthand was, obviously, to some degree inaccurate. But Romney's larger point (being made to a private audience) is that people who are looking to the government for support and handouts are not going to be persuaded to vote for him. Their candidate is already in The White House.

Americans already know this, too. Romney has said before -- to gasps from his "friends" in the press corps -- that his focus isn't on the poor, or at least those who are already content being cared for by government programs . . . because they're already being cared for. His focus is on the struggling middle class, people who want to be independent of the government -- but who are being sucked into the pit of government dependency by the terrible Obama economy. Those who have no problem depending on the government aren't ever going to support him, as "spreading the wealth around" to make things "fairer" isn't his preferred modus operandi, it's Obama's.
Ramesh Ponnuru had written last year about what he called "the freeloader myth."
There is a certain plausibility to the claim that the more people fall off the income-tax rolls, the more will support federal activism. But there is a series of evidentiary hurdles that this claim cannot begin to overcome. There is no evidence that changes in the percentage of people who pay income tax has had any effect on public opinion, let alone a large one. The U.S. that began the Democrats’ 40-year reign in the House of Representatives in 1954 had roughly the same percentage of non-payers of income tax (24.9) as the U.S. that ended it in 1994 (24.4). A relatively large proportion of the citizenry paid income taxes in the early 1960s. It didn’t stop the Great Society from being enacted. The number of people who pay no income taxes moved up fast between 2006 and 2010, which has helped set off conservative alarms. But voters turned sharply right between the elections of those two years....The story also relies on implausible psychological assumptions. It assumes that people who pay payroll taxes but not income taxes make a sharp distinction between the two. But what if they, or many of them, simply think that they have paid taxes? It assumes, further, that immediate circumstances matter more than long-term ones. When conservatives argue for tax cuts for high-income voters, or against tax increases for them, we often point out that some people who are “rich” today will not be in ten years, and vice versa. We argue, further, that high taxes reduce the incentive to work, save, and invest, which presupposes that people can anticipate the taxes they will pay if they gain income. But if they can anticipate future taxes, then the fact that they do not happen to pay income taxes at the moment should not matter.
There's a lot more in Ponnuru's essay and it's too bad that Romney hadn't read it.

Interestingly, John Sides at Monkey Cage has a graph of polls and "gaffes" such as Obama's remarks that "the private sector is doing fine" and "you didn't build that" and Romney's remarks on Libya. The polls didn't move for Democrats after Obama's gaffes though there were slight increases for Romney's support. And Romney's remarks on Libya occurred at the same time as Obama's bounce was declining so it's not clear what role they've played in the polls. He has a similar graph from 2008 showing that there was no change in the polls after Obama's bitter clinger remarks made the news. Sides concludes,
The best case for saying that “gaffes matter” is that actual voters are persuaded to change their minds because of the gaffes. If they don’t, then it’s tough to argue that “gaffes” are really “game-changers.” And, in fact, usually voters don’t change their minds. See, for example, Michael Tesler’s and my analyses of the impact of “the private sector is doing fine.”

The best argument you can make about these gaffes is sort of a woolly counterfactual: “Well, if it hadn’t been for the release of Romney’s video today, Romney would have been able to accomplish X, Y, and Z, which would have helped him win the election.” Like any counterfactual, there is some plausibility—yes, Romney would rather talk about the unemployment rate than these comments.

But like any counterfactual, it’s predicated on assumptions about what the world would have looked like without these comments. And given the tenuousness of any such assumptions, and the (at best) small effects that single events in any presidential general election campaign tend to have, I would stop well short of calling this video “devastating.”

Many a news cycle was built on a “gaffe” with a remarkably short shelf life.
I hop ehe's right, but I'm pessimistic.

Include in that contrafactual that the media will not be talking about the news that the U.S. intelligence warned the Cairo embassy to expect protests aimed at them on September 11, but didn't warn any other American missions in the region. There are also the stories that Libyan officials had warned Americans about security in Benghazi. Don't you think that that is a much bigger story and one that the media would be talking about endlessly if this had happened under Bush's watch? But they won't have time to talk about that since they'll have to talk about Romney's words.

Republicans might want to whistle past the graveyard and defend their guy. But I don't see any way that this is a positive. Those conservatives who hear a lot that they agree with in Romney's statements aren't the swing voters whom Romney has to win over. And Romney's comments just make that harder.

I thought Romney might be smarter since he always seems so careful and risk-averse. He should know better than to say things in private to donors that he wouldn't want played over and over again on TV. Obama's "bitter clingers" moment should have drummed that lesson home to him. I guess that he has to answer questions that donors are asking him about the campaign, but he should really be more self-aware of what he says and that there are secret recorders for everything he says. He usually is that careful, but it just takes one lapse and away we go.

I try to remain optimistic that we will vote Obama out of office, but I'm just not feeling it this morning.