In a Wednesday conference call with donors, Mitt Romney blamed his defeat on the obvious culprit: all the freebies that Barack Obama gave away to Democratic voters — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
If you’re a member of one of those communities, and you’re wondering where your free gift is, it may help to understand that Mitt Romney has an odd definition of the word:
With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.
Not only are a couple of those flatly untrue (nobody forgave college loan interest. Congress just voted to keep interest rates from rising; contraceptives are only “free” for people who already have insurance coverage), but Romney’s examples of “gifts” turn out to be simply the kinds of things that Western governments do, like ensuring that people have adequate access to health care and education.
Romney’s formulation was no accident. The statement was perfectly consonant with Romney’s earlier campaign gaffes. In fact, based on this statement, it’s pretty clear that the most damaging things said by Romney weren’t gaffes at all — they were just an honest expression of his worldview.
47 Percent Free Stuff
Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe has been credited with sowing the seeds of his defeat. It’s worth revisiting, because it’s so very similar to the lamentation Romney delivered Wednesday.
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.
This is the way Romney views the world — makers versus takers. It goes without saying that the Democrats, and especially the African American and Latino communities, are the takers, demanding free stuff from captains of industry like Mitt Romney. That some people might view health care, food, and housing as less a freebie and more a basic human need seems to completely elude Romney. The idea that there’s a societal benefit for keeping the populace clothed, fed, and healthy is alien to him.
No, Romney views these things as “gifts.” As he said after his address to the NAACP, “I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.”
That’s why Mitt’s complaint is so illustrative. Not because it’s new, but because it isn’t. Mitt’s anger is at people he believes are leeches on the body of America — the poor, the young, the non-white.
Romney tried very hard to avoid honesty during the campaign, sticking to platitudes and vague generalizations. But a few times, the mask slipped. When he felt like he was among his wealthy white peers, he actually said what he believed. What Mitt believed was what so many on the right believe. They usually hide it better, though.
Right Turns on Romney
Since Mitt lost, he no longer can depend on a sycophantic party to praise his every utterance. The same folks who tried to tap dance around the 47 percent comments have opened up on Romney, because they understand well that these kind of comments are not helpful to a GOP comeback.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, no mushy moderate, called Romney’s statement “absolutely wrong.” Daily Caller columnist Matt Lewis expressed hope that Mitt would soon ride “off into the political sunset.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote, “Mitt Romney was very wrong to see 2012 as a referendum on ‘stuff.’ It was a referendum on the question, which candidate would do a better job promoting prosperity and creating jobs.”
Certainly, more than a few conservatives recognize Romney’s statements as problematic, and some probably even recognize them as the bigoted nonsense they are. Republicans shouldn’t kid themselves, though. Romney’s beliefs are hardly unique in the party.
Paul Ryan, who is still generally seen in a positive light by conservatives, blamed high turnout in “urban areas” as the reason he isn’t vice president. Bill O’Reilly presaged Romney’s comments, saying on Fox, “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.”
Much has been made of the racial disparity of the vote between Democrats and Republicans, and Republicans are aware that they need to reach out to non-white voters. So far, that’s manifested itself in Sean Hannity’s reversal on immigration, and a boom in support for Marco Rubio in 2016. No doubt, those would help somewhat. But they aren’t the Republican Party’s central problem with race.
The Republican Party has spent the last sixty years arguing that white Americans are “real Americans,” and that everyone else is not. They’ve spent their time denigrating social spending, accusing Democrats of giving money to “strapping young bucks” who would use it to buy steaks.
The Republican narrative of the last three generations has been that African Americans and other people of color are drains on our good white society, and that we need to stop our handouts to them. Can Republicans really be surprised that their standard-bearer in 2012 views them as takers who just want free stuff?
Mitt Romney’s statements may have been inartful, but they were absolutely, authentically Republican. He assumes that people of color are just sitting around with their hands out, waiting for him to fork over his hard-earned money. It never occurs to him that the rich get plenty of “free stuff” too — or Mitt might have to acknowledge the inherent unfairness of his 15 percent tax rate. No, benefits that go to rich white people are understandable. White people are makers. Non-whites are takers.
It’s not subtle. Republicans have allied themselves with the racist strain in American politics. Until the GOP addresses that central problem, they aren’t going to win over African Americans, Latinos or any other people of color — and indeed, they’re going to lose more and more younger white voters, who have grown up recognizing a fundamental truth: society is not divided into makers and takers at all — and if our society is to flourish, everyone, from top to bottom, needs to have a decent shot at life. Until Republicans recognize that, they will continue to hemorrhage support, and they will deserve to.
Image Credit: Donkey Hotey