A month back I ventured a brief post on this site in which I expressed my astonishment at the spectacle of a multi-millionaire presidential candidate assuring Americans that he had paid no less than 13 percent taxes. It generated some commentary back and forth. But as a startling addendum, we must now consider Mr. Romney’s comments at a private fundraising event at which he didn’t know he was being surreptitiously videtaped, with the tape now leaked to Mother Jones magazine and hitting the internet on several sites:
“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.”
And further from Mr. Romney: ”These are people who pay no income tax. 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” He says his job “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Such is his characterization of all those who support his opponent. Not some portion of Mr. Obama’s support, but the full 47 percent that had, at the time of that fundraiser, fully committed to the re-electing the president. Others have already undertaken to show the lie of this, to affirm that many of those people not paying taxes are the low-wage laboring class, or to note the percentages of right-minded Republicans who are the beneficiaries of a vast array of government entitlements. Me, I can only speak for my entitled, tax-avoiding self here, but hey, I think I will:
I am going to vote for Barack Obama. Strangely, I am not dependent on any government assistance of a kind that Mr. Romney denigrates, nor do I see myself through any prism of victimhood. And as for my taxes, well, I already know that I pay at a realized rate at least twice as high as the rate paid by Mr. Romney. Yet I stand among that 47 percent. Many, many other Americans with the same criteria do as well.
My support for Mr. Obama and my opposition to Mr. Romney was, until this moment, premised on the idea that I believe more in one man’s vision of the American experiment and much less so in the other. It has exactly nothing to do with my own personal standing. My support isn’t predicated on any perceived benefit to me. My opposition isn’t predicated on any perceived threat. Although this may be an incredible and perverse notion for Mr. Romney to contemplate, my political positions do not follow from simple self-interest. At points, as a function of citizenship itself, I feel obliged to contemplate something larger than myself, something that might benefit others more than me, something that might require collective sacrifice of a kind associated with great nations and great societies. And if my vote results in a higher tax rate for myself and others in my income bracket, that’s certainly understandable given the current level of societal need and the fact that American tax rates are at their lowest ebb in modern times. I need to pay more, and so do many other fortunate Americans who have had the benefit of an economic system and infrastructure that allowed such opportunities to amass wealth in the first place. How much more? Well, that question is premised on another: What does my country require from all of us – proportionally – to sustain itself as a first-rate society? What does it demand of all Americans, but in particular, those of us who have gained affluence in that society?
That Mitt Romney, with his too-clever-by-half 13 percent tax rate – and no, you can’t see his returns, but trust him, he never slipped to single digits — feels equipped to sneer en masse at the millions of fellow citizens who support his opponent as being entitled, greedy tax derelicts, that he believes the vote of every American has to necessarily be rooted in the crudest and most basic self-interest — well, this ugly moment reveals more about the man himself than the targets of his derision. Until this moment, I thought I was going to vote for Mr. Obama because, while not satisfied by all of his positions and actions, I find his vision of the American collective to be fairer and more utilitarian. Mr. Obama seems to be asserting for an America in which sacrifice is proportional and widespread, and correspondingly, an America in which the future is inclusive of more of us. The alternative is, of course, a nation in which more wealth is concentrated in fewer Americans, and a greater mass of citizens endure higher rates of poverty — a nation that we have been constructing, systematically, since 1980.
That was my previous argument to myself and it certainly seemed enough to decide my vote.
But now, after witnessing this fresh astonishment from Mr. Romney – after reading the above statements from a man who wants to be my president while contributing less than half of my proportional share to the commonweal, who then wants to denigrate others for not pulling their weight when in many cases that weight is greater proportionally than that which he himself has shouldered – I confess I have suddenly acquired an altogether different reason for pulling the lever in November.
This man is a lout. A shameless lout, who, among the supposed privacy of close supporters, reveals that he can conceive of no idea larger or more profound than self-interest. As he believes first and foremost in Mitt Romney and his ambitions, he can’t conceive that others can conjure anything larger than themselves or their possible personal gain. Here and now, he is laid bare by his own cynical critique of others who will not follow him in selfishness. It is not that Mr. Romney is merely unfit to serve us as president. Based on this latest revelation, it may go much deeper. If he believes what he told that group in private, he may well be unfit to serve us as a fellow citizen.