Four months ago, so the latest story goes, Mitt Romney spoke to several of his most generous donors. He talked about many subjects. But everyone will remember only one subject: that nearly half the American people depend on government for one thing or another. Mitt Romney made a mistake, but not the mistake people think. He gave up too easily in trying to win those people over.
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. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
As Romney explained, he was talking strictly about where his votes would come from.
The obvious mistake was letting someone slip into that meeting with a video camera. Mother Jones found the video and published that particular clip. Romney had to admit that he did not make his point very tactfully. But his less obvious mistake lay in giving up trying to convince people that they not only should but must take responsibility for their own lives. Because if they don’t, the government, and the larger society, will collapse.
What one could say about it
Former Governor Mitt Romney at a townhall in Sun Lakes, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License
First, Mitt Romney is right. Business Insiderhaseighteen charts to show that more people depend on government today than did when Barack Obama took office. These charts come from the Heritage Foundation. Start with 47 percent of Americans paying no federal income tax. Go on to see that 70 percent of government spending goes to entitlement programs. And these trends have risen for more than fifty years.
Jim Messina manages the Obama campaign. He accused Mitt Romney of “[writing] off half the nation.” But if Mitt Romney did that, he wasn’t the only one. Messina did, too. And his boss did.
Incidentally, liberals do see themselves, and the people they try to reach, as victims. Whether victims of circumstance, or victims of oppression (or grand theft), doesn’t matter. People get used to blaming others, or “bad luck.” They don’t see that a successful person makes his own luck.
Next, one can readily show that the mainstream press collaborate with liberal politicians. Their behavior in making so much of this video (while also missing the full context; see the second embed below) is a prize example. The Daily Callerturned up a worse example: the Department of Justice asking Media Matters for America for advice in excusing abuses of power (and “executive privilege”) by the Attorney General.
Third, Mitt Romney has a record of private charity that Barack Obama simply cannot match. That record includes giving not only money but time and effort, too.
Why Mitt Romney made a mistake
Still, Mitt Romney made a mistake. He should not give up on people. True, nearly half the people subsist on some government check or other. But that includes military service members, United States Marshals, and FBI agents and other staff. Those aren’t dependents. They genuinely serve our country and fulfill the core functions of the State. Those people will not necessarily vote for “the entitlement President.” Their jobs do not depend on anyone’s politics. (Or if they do, then Mitt Romney will be a better friend to them than Barack Obama has been, or could ever be!)
And what of those who take handouts, or jobs that do not serve the core functions of the State? Should anyone, seeking high office, give up on telling them to be independent? Many of them do not want to stay dependent. Part of the liberal appeal is to tell people to lay their pride aside and take the handouts. If the Obama administration must do that, to drum up enrollment, then surely a Mitt Romney can encourage people to resign from that state and live independently.
Mitt Romney could start by quoting Will Durant, one of the finest historians America has ever produced. In The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Will Durant said this of the earliest communist societies:
Communism can help men cope with poverty, but it can never get men out of that poverty.
Neither can government entitlement programs. Mitt Romney can win, with that message. He cannot win if he gives up trying to convince dependent people to stop depending on government, or anything else.
Mitt Romney might also tell the people something else: once most voters depend on government, they vote for more programs, for fewer people to pay for. The game ends when everyone depends on the government, and no one pays taxes. Those who could pay, will flee—in person, not merely by banking offshore. Or they will stop doing money-making things, i.e. go on strike. Then, as Ayn Rand warned her readers, society will collapse.