September 19 2012
I've been mulling over Romney's remarks about the "47 percent," the nearly half of our country who are supposedly dependent on government and who, according to Romney, want to stay that way.
Of course, the fact that half of the country pays no income tax is not news. And it's nothing new for Republicans to demonize them about it either. But what's especially sad for Romney in this case is that he writes them all off as short-sighted, purely self-interested voters, when many of them aren't.
Do people vote in their self-interest? I've written about this before with respect to young voters, and clearly the answer is no. People are much more likely to vote according to which candidate's vision they agree with more. There's no doubt that people who are dependent on government could benefit in the short run through an expansion of their benefits. But even those people are divided in terms of beliefs about government. If they see government's role as caregiver and equalizer, they will probably vote for Obama. If they see government's role as something less (simple justice enforcement, etc.), then they may be in Romney's camp. Most people in America sincerely want to make it on their own (or to believe that they are making it on their own, even if they aren't), and this is to Obama's disadvantage when he talks about "shared responsibility" or as Bill Clinton said, "We are all in this together." Furthermore, most Americans across class lines see the family as the main source of care for people's needs, not government.
Some people in the 47 percent see no hope. They do classify themselves as victims, and perhaps some of them truly are victims of a terrible tragedy or circumstance. With no hope for self-advancement, Obama's vision is attractive, because he tends to classify all of socio-economics as static. The "wealthiest Americans" are a group of elite, who, according to Obama, never change. There's no room for social mobility in his worldview (and sadly, under his Administration, it seems this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy). But in the free-market view, the poor of today could be in the middle class of tomorrow, with no help from government. The middle class of today could be tomorrow's "wealthiest Americans," because this is what the free exchange of goods and services does: wealth creation.
Many in the 47 percent are just waiting for that chance to get out of it. They do believe they will succeed, and they are willing to work hard to do it. Their worldview is far from President Obama's, and Romney shouldn't assume the President has their vote.
Romney shouldn't lump the whole 47 percent together. I am annoyed when people talk about "the women's vote" when women are 52 percent of the electorate. Clearly, any group that large is diverse in their views and their lifestyles. The same can be said for the "47 percent." Romney is making a mistake if he's writing them off.