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What Mitt Romney really said

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Smart v. Stupid

What Mitt Romney really said

Romney repeats a simple-minded theory about why people choose a political party

  • Mario Piperni/

Lost in the reporting of Mitt Romney’s secretly-taped insult remarks – seemingly aimed at seniors and soldiers and people who work the crummy jobs – is his true target. Romney was trying to demonize Democrats. To him, the Democrats are all lazy, and shiftless and parasitic. Otherwise, they’d be voting for him.

This is a hugely common Republican fairytale meant to explain away why so many conservatives are not rich: Blame the poor! Now Romney is trying to use it to explain away his own weaknesses. Mitt tells it like this:

“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.”

(Romney also said that independents are emotional voters, a silly idea that we leave to other writers to slaughter. Let’s not get distracted.)

The claim lacks factual basis. Of the people who voted in the last presidential election, half of those who make over $50,000, over $75,000 and over $100,000 voted for President Obama. In fact, Romney’s claim is statistically impossible. Only about 15 percent of Americans are poor. That's hardly enough voters to fill up a party even if they all voted “D”, which they don’t. Most don’t even vote.

Confused yet? Well, let me connect the dots for you. Take a man, any man who’s grows up never doubting that any American who works hard enough can be rich. He never doubts that this American Dream will come true for him. So he works really hard. And right around middle age, he finds himself not so much better off than where he started. That day he wakes up gob-smacked by the realization that he worked hard – really, really hard – but he didn’t get rich. Worse yet, he is not even better off than his dad.

So he starts looking around for someone to blame. He doesn’t look inward; that’s never been his way. He doesn’t blame his lack of investment capital or his lack of management skills, or his lack of an innovative idea. He doesn’t blame not going to college; that’s just for smarty-pants anyway.

In short, he is clueless to understand that he has actually been expectedly successful. It was his imagination that hard work is all that’s needed to become rich. It was unrealistic. None of his hardworking neighbors got rich either, or not many of them. The truth, of course, is that the trip from poor to rich takes generations – or else some really good luck. This guy spent his life living for a lie and it bit him on the ass.

Now comes the Republican Party, offering him a convenient excuse: That powerful poor people’s lobby kept you down, brother. Poor people have been sucking the life out the American Dream so they can sit on their lazy asses and eat prime rib they bought with food stamps and brought home in a better car than yours. Ah, the privileged life of the poor...

Really, relief from success-angst is the only trick the Republicans have left. That’s why only white men give them majorities anymore.

Spend time on any conservative discussion forum or read the comments section after any liberal op-ed and you’ll meet these guys – the ones who angrily blame others for their circumstance. They so mightily want to believe it was not their fault that they are easy targets con men like Romney or Ryan or Rove. You can still do it, my friend – just put me in office.

It was this fairytale that Mitt Romney was appropriating, this Grand Blame Shift. But here are some more facts. In the 2004 election:

In the 2006 midterm election, 47 percent of people making $100,000 or more voted Democratic.

  • 49 percent of people who made under $50,000 voted Republican
  • 40 percent of people who made under $15,000 voted Republican
  • 43 percent of people making more than $100,000 voted Democratic
  • 41 percent of people making more than $500,000 voted Democratic

The numbers are fairly consistent although Democrats seem to capture a few more well-off voters each election cycle. Still, many middle-classers embrace the Republican trope because they can’t accept responsibility for either being gullible or being unsuccessful. The tragedy, of course, is that they were neither. Only in their old belief system would these self-doubts be possible. Only in their new belief system would their delusions be possible. Truth is they didn’t get rich. Another truth is that it wasn’t poor people that kept them from it. The final truth is that it was never likely that they would become rich. Most people don’t.

Democrats care about poor people but they aren’t the party of poor people. That’s just a lie that Republicans like to tell – mostly so they can feel more successful than they really are. Romney is doing the same thing; perhaps for the same reason.

Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”

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