As has been widely reported, Mitt Romney revealed his disdain for 47% of Americans during a $50,000 per person campaign fundraiser held at the mansion of Marc Leder, a controversial private equity hedge fund manager. A secretly recorded video of the event shows Pink Slip Mitt saying, among other things:
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. . . . . [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Unpacking this statement a bit, Romney essentially categorized the nearly half of Americans who benefit from social programs and/or pay no federal income taxes as moochers who are failing to take personal responsibility for their own lives. And while this statement is phrased more harshly than what Romney typically says in public, it is consistent with the Romney/Ryan campaign’s rhetoric and plans regarding abolishing Medicare, starting down the road to privatizing Social Security, eviscerating Medicaid, etc.
Given that tens of millions of hard-working Americans benefit from sensible and popular government programs, it is important to find out exactly who Romney considers to be a “dependent . . . victim” who needs to be convinced to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” presumably by taking away the benefit they have been received. As such, in this latest installment of Questions for Mitt Romney, we urge reporters, debate moderators, and voters to ask and demand answers from Romney and his campaign on the following questions:
* Is an 89 year old with late stage dementia who relies on Medicare to pay for her medical care a “dependent victim”? Should that dementia patient be deprived of the guaranteed coverage of Medicare so that she can instead “take personal responsibility” by seeking insurance in the private market?
* Are our service members who return home from Iraq or Afghanistan with physical, mental, and/or emotional injuries that necessitate the use of the Veteran’s health benefits or disability compensation failing to “take personal responsibility”?
* Is the parent who works two minimum wage jobs yet still needs food stamps to make ends meet and Medicaid/CHIP to ensure her child has health care failing to “take personal responsibility”?
* Is the young adult who uses federal student loans to be able to afford to be the first person in her family to attend college failing to “take personal responsibility”?
* Is the senior citizen who uses his Social Security benefits to help him be able to afford to stay in his own home failing to “take personal responsibility”?
* Is the laid off factory worker who collects unemployment benefits to make sure her family does not become homeless while she is looking for a new job failing to “take personal responsibility”?
Conservatives are correct that the number of people who receive government benefits of some sort has increased considerably over the past 50 years, and spiked over the past few years. But those increases are not a sign that Americans are somehow too dependent on government or failing to take personal responsibility. Instead, the increase is due to three facts. First, we realized in the days of the New Deal and Great Society that individuals, our economy, and our society are better off when we have a basic social safety net and government efforts to support a strong middle class through Social Security, Medicare, etc. As such, we expanded and strengthened those programs to serve additional people who need the assistance. Second, the vulture capitalism practiced by companies like Bain Capital caused many middle class Americans to lose their job security and pensions, thereby forcing them to turn to Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs to help sustain our middle class. Third, conservative economic policies led to the Bush Recession in 2008, which created a short term spike in people needing food stamps, unemployment benefits, etc. Romney’s alternative explanation that nearly half of Americans are just irresponsible victims who do not take personal responsibility is offensive and disconnected from reality.
Romney’s statement regarding 47% of Americans paying no federal income tax is similarly off-base. Romney should be required to answer the following questions about that statement:
* Do you realize that those 47% pay other taxes besides income taxes, including sales tax, property tax, payroll taxes, etc.? Does the payment of such taxes rule these 47% out of the category of people focused on dependency and victim hood rather than on independence and personal responsibility?
* If payment of income taxes is a sign of personal responsibility rather than dependency, what does that say about the fact that you paid only 13.9% in taxes in 2010, while most working people pay a higher rate?
* Do you believe that taxes should be raised on the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax? Would raising these people’s taxes make them less focused on dependency and victim hood and more focused on independence and personal responsibility?
* Do you believe that big corporations and billionaires who pay little to no federal taxes and/or who benefit from federal programs should similarly be categorized as entities more interested in dependency and victim hood rather than independence and personal responsibility? If so, what specific loopholes or tax increases would you propose to ensure that corporations and billionaires contribute their fair share? And what specific programs would you end or curtail to ensure that big corporations and billionaires are not becoming dependent victims?
There is no doubt that we can and should be having as part of the 2012 Presidential campaign a careful debate about where government social programs are headed, how much we should spend on them, who should be enrolled, who should pay, etc. Romney’s statement at the fundraiser, however, shows that he is not the person to lead such a debate in a serious and productive way. Instead, as with his opportunistic grandstanding on the Libya embassy attacks, Romney’s crass dismissal of 47% of Americans shows that he is simply not qualified to be President of a nation where the vast majority of people are in far harder economic straights than Romney ever has been or ever will be.