Everyone is weighing in on the astounding video, made public by Mother Jones, that reveals what Mitt Romney really thinks about nearly half of the population of this country. So I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon. Here are some thoughts.
- Not elegantly stated? Hardly. Romney’s defense at his hastily-arranged and painfully embarrassing press availability once the video became public was that his comments were “not elegantly stated” and that he could “state it more clearly and in a more effective way.” But that is absolutely not true. In fact, Romney seems much more comfortable, confident, and at ease talking to the small circle of ultra-wealthy supporters in that video than he does in more public settings. And that’s not surprising, since much of Romney’s business career has been spent addressing very similar circles of very similar people, and he was obviously quite good at it. Watch the video again, and notice how emphatic he is in his characterization of this (mythical) shiftless 47% of the country, 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,” and as to whom he says he will “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” That is a truly shocking statement, made all the moreso by the fact that Romney clearly, effectively, and I’d even venture elegantly, said it about as convincingly as he’s ever said anything. If you ask me, he meant what he said.
- Mainstream conservative reaction is scathing. Put aside the right-wing loons who actually agree with what Romney said (even though it’s factually not even close to correct – sorry Rob – as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru among others points out). The “mainstream” conservative reaction to Romney’s video is extremely negative. Joe Scarborough said “this is one of the worst weeks for a presidential candidate in a general election that any of us can remember.” Bill Kristol (who is a borderline right-wing loon) called Romney’s comments “arrogant and stupid.” Rich Lowry of the National Review reacted this way: “The overall impression of Romney at this event is of someone who overhead some conservative cocktail chatter and maybe read a conservative blog or two, and is thoughtlessly repeating back what he heard and read.” Even Linda McMahon, the pro wrestling magnate and Republican candidate for Senate in Connecticut, rejected Romney’s comments, saying that “I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be.” There’s a roundup of additional right-wing reaction in this post- entitled “Conservatives Agree: Romney’s Wrong” – at the Weekly Standard by Michael Warren.
Especially well worth reading is David Brooks’s New York Times column, hilariously entitled “Thurston Howell Romney.” When one of moderate conservatism’s most prominent voices in the U.S. is comparing the Republican nominee for president to a character from Gilligan’s Island, you’ve got big trouble. Here are some choice quotes:
[Romney's] comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America….
Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.
The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation…. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear….
[A]s a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.
Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign.
Well said, although the passion with which Romney made his statement does make me wonder whether Brooks is correct that Romney is play-acting. Brooks often drives me crazy, but now and then he really nails it.
- This isn’t going away. Some have argued that this is just like every other little “oops” moment that is a flash in the pan, but that fades after a few days and is basically forgotten by election day. I don’t think so. Because this video is new, and very ugly, information about Romney. Honestly, it’s the first real news about Romney that we’ve had in months. And now that it’s out there, it inevitably colors everything that Romney says about economic matters. Remember, George Allen’s “macaca moment” was on August 11, and he never recovered.
- Don’t miss the video about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This morning Mother Jones released another installment from the same fundraiser in which Romney says that “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish,” that “this is going to remain an unsolved problem” comparable to China and Taiwan, and that the best he could hope to do as president is “kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” To be sure, the Israeli/Palestinian situation is difficult. But to throw up your hands and declare that it cannot be solved unless “somehow, something will happen,” well, that just doesn’t seem very presidential to me.