Friday, October 05, 2012


Democrats and Democratic-leaning pundits were profoundly puzzled that President Obama didn’t attack challenger Mitt Romney, during Wednesday night’s debate, on his video comments characterizing 47 percent of the country as inveterate dependents who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives, but perhaps they anticipated that Romney was prepared to walk back that position, as he did the day after the debate:
"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
Breathless headlines featuring the words completely wrong imply that Romney has issued a truly consequential correction to his position… but unless there’s far more to his comments than the AP story reports, this is not really that. He does go on to say…
"And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that's been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent."
…but that’s no more than the same platitude he mouthed when the video comments were first released. What, exactly, does Romney think was “completely wrong” about those remarks? Does he no longer believe a large fraction of the American population is made up of moochers and freeloaders? That they not only do not “take responsibility” for their lives, but can never be persuaded to do so? Does he no longer think that people who, for whatever reason, don’t pay this one form of tax therefore have no “skin in the game” when it comes to government or the public good? Does he no longer share his running mate’s view that the country is sharply divided into makers and takers? If his position has changed, Thursday’s glib and superficial comments do not say so.

In point of fact, the original comments were taped back in May, and Romney has presumably been telling donors and supporters more or less the same thing all this time. Certainly his running mate and surrogates have been saying things in public that, while not as explosively phrased, are perfectly consistent with Romney’s “completely wrong” comments, and the notion that nearly half of us are “takers” has been right-wing orthodoxy since well before Mother Jones released the Florida videotape. And it’s not just professional pundits: I’ve been hearing this sentiment repeated by conservative Facebook friends, and as a volunteer political canvasser, I’ve been hearing it from voters on the phones and at the doors.

The damning thing about Romney’s comments was precisely that they weren’t a misstatement or an error: They reflected the real views of the Republicans and movement conservatives who are Romney’s base of support, and of the conservative legislators and opinion shapers with whom he would have to work if he became president. It’s possible (but IMHO unlikely) those comments don’t reflect Romney’s own personal beliefs — it wouldn’t (not by a long shot) be the first time he’d said what his audience wanted to hear instead of what he really thinks — but he can’t successfully distance himself from them with a single paragraph. You can’t wave away a core belief of your own political movement with a one-liner.

Any more than you can wave away your own long-held, long-promoted tax proposals with a one-liner (albeit often repeated) denial in a debate. Based on the president’s response to Romney’s claim that his own plan wasn’t his plan on taxes, it seems Team Obama didn’t anticipate it; perhaps they did anticipate that Romney would try to wave away the 47 percent issue, and didn’t want to give him such a large stage on which to do it?