Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is trying to get his campaign on track following the release of a video that showed him complaining about people who pay no income tax, people who Romney said believe they are victims and are entitled to care from government.
Unlike previous gaffes, after which Romney was lambasted primarily by liberal voices in the media, this time he provoked the ire of many conservative writers.
That’s understandable because Romney’s comments, made at a private fundraiser in May, reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of who pays income taxes and why. Also, they reinforce the picture Democrats have tried to paint of the GOP candidate as someone wealthy and privileged who has no empathy for the struggles of average Americans.
We don’t believe the comments must prove fatal to Romney’s campaign. He still has an opportunity to right his ship, but he must do so quickly and forcefully. His explanation Monday night that his comments were “not elegantly stated” and were “off the cuff,” but he still stands by them, is not sufficient.
Among the problems with Romney’s remarks is that there are many reasons why 46 percent (not 47 percent) of Americans paid no income taxes in 2011. Many receive tax cuts through programs initiated by Republicans, such as the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit. Most do pay payroll taxes.
Moreover, those receiving entitlements include veterans and senior citizens, as well as those who worked hard much of their lives but now have disabilities. It’s unfair to suggest that all people in these categories are individuals who won’t take personal responsibility for their lives.
Furthermore, and contrary to Romney’s statement that this 47 percent “will vote for the president, no matter what,” many of these he lumped into this group are people who lean Republican, including numerous senior citizens and veterans. According to a map published by the Tax Foundation, eight of the 10 states with the lowest income-tax liability are in the Deep South, and are mostly Republican leaning.
Romney should make it clear that while his May remarks were off base, they point to larger issues that need debating.
For one thing, the United States has repeatedly expanded its definition of “poverty.” It’s clear that most families living under the government definition of poverty today are not in the same life-threatening straits as a poverty-stricken family during the Great Depression. That’s a positive reflection of compassionate Americans living in a land of plenty. But it’s fair for Romney to ask how much more we can afford to expand the definition and the benefits that go with it.
Also, it’s appropriate to raise questions about the great ideological divide regarding the role of government, especially when a recent Gallup poll shows 82 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independents now believe government does too much, while 67 percent of Democrats believe it should do more.
What’s not appropriate is for a major-party presidential candidate to write off nearly half of the U.S. populace by saying, “My job is not to worry about those people.”