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Romney video awakens voters from campaign coma

Romney video awakens voters from campaign coma
REUTERS/Jim Young
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greeting supporters at a campaign rally in Miami, Fla., on Wednesday.

Much of the American electorate was completely bored with the 2012 presidential campaign when the release of Mitt Romney's fundraiser video rocked the nation like a massive explosion.

The secretly recorded video, capturing the carefully controlled Romney in an unscripted and candid moment, caught the attention of Americans who had tuned out of the race between Romney and President Obama.

For many Americans, broadcasts of TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" were more scintillating than politicians speaking at the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Calibrating word choices, withholding the details of likely policy changes and repeating well-worn campaign phrases have become the stock in trade of modern presidential candidates.

So it was rather stunning to read that Romney bluntly told his donors that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income taxes. He added they "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."

No doubt Romney grimaced when he heard himself saying on the video:

"My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

When the postmortems are written about the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney's video characterization of nearly half of the population as "victims" will figure prominently.

Altered the dynamic of race

It's clear that the video has altered the dynamic between Republican Romney and Democrat Obama, but it also has ignited a debate and raised questions among Americans who don't listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch Rachel Maddow on a daily basis.

It's also awakened a press corps that now has the opportunity to explain the nation's financial challenges to Americans who are newly engaged on the topic of budget choices and the political values that underpin them.

At first, it was startling to hear Romney say that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal taxes. But that number was validated by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which calculated that 46.4 percent of American households didn't pay federal income taxes last year.

The logical question to ask is: How is it possible that almost half of American households aren't paying federal income taxes?

There are a lot of senior citizens and working poor people in the 46.4 percent.

The earned-income tax credit (EITC), championed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, and the child tax credit, supported by Republican President George W. Bush, help erase federal tax liability for millions of poor working families.

The presidential and vice presidential debates will provide prime arenas for journalists and citizens to press the candidates on what they would do with these tax credits -- keep them, kill them or modify them.

But it's also critical to hold the candidates accountable by asking specific questions about what they plan to do about Social Security and Medicare as the United States wrestles with a ticking demographic clock.

We've known for many years that there are fewer workers following on the heels of baby boomers and current-day senior citizens. But politicians in Washington have been incapable or unwilling to address how they will pay for Social Security and Medicare in the future or how they will reform the programs.

Quiz candidates

U.S. Senate and House candidates should be aggressively quizzed about these topics as well as they court votes.

While government entitlement spending is a huge issue that must be debated in the final weeks of this campaign, the No. 1 issue must remain the health of the U.S. economy.

Unless the U.S. economy starts gaining some traction, the ranks of poor people will multiply and an American middle-class lifestyle will disappear for millions.

Some conservatives on talk radio were delighted by Romney's video comments because they elevated the issue of the "takers," people who rely on government benefits. Some Democrats viewed Romney as delivering a self-inflicted blow, which could put him on the defensive for weeks.

In 2008, GOP candidate John McCain was frequently overshadowed by his polarizing running mate, Sarah Palin. In the final phase of the 2012 campaign, Democrats won't let Romney waltz away from his 47 percent comments. Even though the former Massachusetts governor has tried to cast his tax positions in language that is less offensive to many Americans, the furor over his video could continue to dog his campaign.

When he was speaking candidly to campaign supporters in May, Romney didn't have a clue that someone was recording him and could potentially sabotage his campaign. Romney has learned the lesson that you can never assume that you are among trusted friends.

Romney's unfiltered comments are public and available for everyone to read. He was making a raw political calculation, and people will cheer or condemn him for what he said.

Now it's time for Romney and Obama to engage in a full-throated debate about their visions for America and what they'll do to buttress the job and business climate.

Fedor can be reached at lfedor@minnpost.com.

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Comments (5)

Don't expect anything too difficult to answer

If the past several elections are a guide, we won't see any tough questions, let alone good answers. While the candidates SHOULD be asked for a plan in view of our aging demographic, if they ARE asked, we'll get generalities because the public doesn't want to hear the real solution. And even if the real solution was entirely palatable, at least part of the public has been convinced that compromise is a dirty word, and any good solution will require compromise.

I think Romney said exactly what he meant, and he probably even believes it. This is a man who has no idea what it means to need assistance because he was born with plenty of money, was provided every opportunity, and made the rest of his fortune by outsourcing the very jobs that would enable more people to live without subsidies. He just doesn't get it. Worse, he has no time for those people. He doesn't fully understand that he, too, is living off subsidies. His own family was given money to get back onto their feet after fleeing Mexico. His income comes from subsidized corporations. His ability to operate any business is subsidized by all Americans, even those that don't pay federal income tax, through various other taxes, fees, and tolls. But...he feels entitled to it. Perhaps he feels that it's God's will that he be rich. But it doesn't change the fact that he feels entitled to a lifestyle subsidized by other Americans because he was born to it and it fits his concept of what is good.

So, he relegates masses of those who PAID for their "entitlements" to a heap of self-pitying victims. He includes those who can't physically do better. And for good measure, he pretends that everyone who works must necessarily be making enough to pay federal taxes or be lazy, so that they, too, can be thrown in the trash heap. He can even, probably in the same speech, recite the unemployment rate and the percent of households that pay federal income tax, and still not recognize that they don't jive. Or care. He thinks that those lazy retired veterans had better get a job that makes more money. Well, when he can convince the "job creators" to pay a living wage for all people, then maybe he'd have a right to show disdain for any American that doesn't pay in their "fair share." Of course, last time I checked, we can't even be sure he himself did.

Good piece, but

If you think that there is any equivalence between Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh, you have not been paying attention. Whether or not you agree with her, Maddow is a somber, fact based commentator with a grounding in facts. It is clear that she is left of center. Limbaugh is an entertainer, a firebrand, provocateur (I am trying to avoid name calling) with absolutely no regard for facts. Unfortunately, you are exemplifying the false equivalence that reporters and commentators seem to be required to engage in.

Yes, a good piece ...

... but one with a few false assumptions, such as the false equivalency identified by Maury.

Also, when Liz wrote "No doubt Romney grimaced when he heard himself saying on the video: ..."

Not so much, eh? Rodney's remarks since the tape was made public clearly indicate that he's clueless about what all the fuss was about.

And so no, I can't picture him grimacing -- because he's not sufficiently aware of how out of touch his opinions are compared to those of ordinary people.

How is the arena relevant?

I'm extrememly troubled by reporters who somehow try to paint Romney sympathetically because the comments were made intended for a private audience and not meant for public consumption. Really? So it's OK to tell voters one thing and tell your supporters the "truth"? If you only have one message designed and intended for everyone, it's much more difficult to run into trouble.

Sorry Romney's validation is

Sorry Romney's validation is incomplete. If 49% do not pay federal income taxes, a large portion of them still do pay federal payroll taxes. The supposed validation is conflating two sets of data.

One also needs to take out the non-working spouses in families living on only one income, and the dependents associated with that household.

Senior citizens are just getting back moneys already taxed from a lifetime of working the government has had to use in the meantime.

Exempt those categories from the moocher group and the numbers change remarkably.

I say that using the Tax Policy Center figure for validation is bogus, since Romney did not say either household nor federal income tax while that is the only pair of groups the Tax Policy Center figure uses.