Politicians occasionally tell the truth. That happened in September of 2012, when Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney lambasted the “47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what [because they] are dependent upon government [and] believe they are victims.” Romney spoke for the Republican Party, which has decided to turn its back on the least fortunate Americans. The 2014 Democratic Agenda must respond to the cold-hearted Republican stance.
During a political gathering, Romney said:
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 not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.Romney’s statement can be parsed in three ways. The first is factual. While it was true, in 2011, that 46.4 percent of Americans paid no Federal income tax that didn’t mean they paid no taxes. According to CBS News, “nearly two-thirds of households that paid no income tax did pay payroll taxes. And most people also pay some combination of state, local, sales, gas and property taxes.” While most of the people who didn’t pay income tax were very poor, “more than half of the filing units not paying income taxes are those with incomes less than $16,812 per year,” more than 100,000 Americans with incomes above $211,000 also paid no taxes. As usual, Republicans bent the truth.
The second view of Romney’s statement is political. He mouthed the contemporary Republican ideology: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Republicans contend that a substantial number of Americans are deadbeats, people who do not want to work. “[W]ho 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.”
This “dump the deadbeats” attitude is at the core of the Republican resistance to extending long-term unemployment insurance. It’s the basis of the GOP contention that 10.4 million unemployed want a free ride and the supporting claim that unemployment insurance actually promotes unemployment. Recently, Senator Rand Paul argued that extended unemployment benefits, "do a disservice to workers, causing them to become part of this perpetually unemployed group."
Once again, there’s no truth to these claims, Economists have found that employers have stopped interviewing people who have been out of work several months. “[The] long-term unemployment trap has to do with our great recession, and not-so-great recovery. With a labor market that doesn't work for people who made the mistake of losing their job at the wrong time.”
The third aspect of Romney’s statement justified the heartless recovery: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Republicans have turned their back on Romney’s 47 percent and, more generally, on groups that are not likely Republican voters.
A recent Gallup study found that 38 percent of respondents self identify as Conservative, 34 percent as Moderate, and 23 percent as Liberal. It’s a safe bet that Romney’s 47 percent is mostly Liberal and Moderate voters.
A 2011 Pew Study sheds more light on this. Pew found that 35 percent of registered voters were in one of three groups: “Staunch Conservatives” (11 percent), “Main Street Republicans” (14 percent), and “Libertarians” (10 percent). This corresponds to the roughly 35 percent of Republican voters that oppose everything that Obama and the Democrats propose.
The Pew study found that Democrats were in three groups: “Solid Liberals” (16 percent), “New Coalition Democrats” (9 percent), and “Hard-Pressed Democrats” (15 percent). Pew found that moderates were in two groups: “Disaffected” (11 percent) and “Post-Moderns” (14 percent).
Thus, Romney’s 47 percent includes Democrats plus a slice of Moderates. In essence, he said the only Americans who count are Republicans; specifically older, White, relatively well-to-do voters. (A recent Gallup poll, found that Republicans are primarily non-Hispanic Whites [89 percent]).
To respond to cold-hearted Republican ideology, the 2014 Democratic Agenda must have a strong populist bent. It should begin with the assertion that the economy must work for all the people. This means ensuring that everyone who wants to work can find a job – a job rebuilding American’s infrastructure, if need be. This means that the proceeds from economic growth must go to everyone, not just the one percent. This means we must protect the 47 percent “have nots” as well as the “haves.”
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org