Others have already done a good job of reporting and analyzing the latest manifestation of Mitt Romney’s foot-in-mouth disease, aka his declaration of class warfare against the poor and near-poor that he recently made in front of a group of wealthy donors.
For those who have been visiting Jupiter or Mars, here is the kernel of his remarks:
“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're hopeless…I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The 47% figure refers, of course, to the number of American households that pay no federal income tax.
Journalists have rightfully jumped all over the Mittman. DavidWeigel analyzed the statement in detail in Slate, pointing out the several conflations, e.g., assuming that the 47% who don’t pay income taxes are all on welfare. As Weigel, National Public Radio and others have already written, the 47% includes most senior citizens receiving Social Security and military personnel. Many have remembered to say that those in the “47%” pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, plus state, local and sales tax. Most journalists from all points of the political spectrum have discussed how bad Romney looks in this latest dust-up. Some have even dared to utter the words “class warfare,” a phrase usually proffered by arch conservatives opposed to returning tax rates for the wealthy to what they were before the Bush II temporary cuts.
There’s not much more I can add to the discussion that’s new, but I did want to take a look at those in the 47% who are not part of the military or seniors on Social Security: those whose taxable income after deductions is lower than the threshold for paying federal income taxes. To state the obvious—they don’t pay taxes because their income is too low!
Who are these people?
They serve you in fast food restaurants and they sweep your floors. They’re the cashiers in supermarkets and Wal-Mart. They may be fixing your roof or parking your car. They change your bedpan in the hospital. They may be on the assembly line of non-unionized companies. A lot of twenty-somethings with college diplomas and no job prospects are in this group.
The crime here is not that these good, hardworking people don’t pay income taxes, but that they earn so little money that after tax credits they fall under the threshold for paying taxes.
Be it senior citizens who have worked and paid into the Social Security system for decades, the honorable men and women we send off to risk their lives often in meaningless wars or the poor and near-poor, these people do not deserve the angry and offensive criticism of Romney and the Tea-partiers. These people are neither “hopeless,” nor do they refuse to take “personal responsibility for their lives,” as Mitt put it. Blaming the victim is an old game for right-wingers. That a candidate for the presidency is playing it is shameful and shocking.
I’m going to end by going out on a limb and stating unequivocally that when those sympathetic to Romney’s view close their eyes and conjure an image of the 47% of the population who they believe are sucking society dry, all they see is black and brown. Like “food stamp president,” “47%” is a racial code word for African-Americans and Hispanics. They won’t say it, because they don’t have to. That’s the beauty—and the ugliness—of code words.