Here’s a Fact

Mitt Romney let it be known that he believes 47% of Americans are freeloaders.  Entitled, he says.  They pay no income tax whatsoever and will therefore vote for Obama no matter what, because they get their support from the government.

Now, this is how spin works.  Saying it the way he did makes it sound like that 47% are sitting on their entitled butts, drawing stipends from the government and doing nothing with their lives.  This is the myth of the welfare queen, writ large.  He makes it sound as if these are entirely worthless people.

Somewhere To Lay My Head

There is much that is wrong with that, not least the irresponsible use of statistics.  47% of all Americans, Mitt?  Hm.  That would include children and the retired.  It would, I assume, also include those who live in one-income households who are not themselves earners.  So, really, all of them?  Those preadolescents sucking off mom and dad should be cut off and forced to go to work?

But we may assume (maybe) that he is referring to 47% of people between 18 and 65 that he thinks ought to be paying federal income taxes.

The other false assumption is that, by inference, none of these people pay any taxes whatsoever.  We tend to talk about federal income tax as the sine qua non, the only game in town, and in the heat of political posturing, we tend to make the assumption that if someone doesn’t pay it, then they pay nothing at any level.

At least half of the number he cited constitute what we know as the working poor.  They work.  They have jobs.  They struggle and earn. They do not make enough to pay federal income tax.

But they pay payroll taxes, state income taxes, personal property taxs (if they have cars) real estate taxes (if they own a house, however small and inadequate), and everybody pays sales taxes.  They pay.  They work.  Many do get subsidies of some kind—foodstamps (recently we learned that more than half of WalMart employees do not make enough money and need foodstamps, but if they’re working for WalMart, they’re working), MedicAid, things like that.  But here’s the thing.

We all get something from the government!

Whether we see it this way or not, all of us get some kind of assistance from the government, either directly or indirectly.  Quite famously (and in some instance hypocritically) most so-called Red States, those with state governments, congressional members, and we assume local populations who do the most bitching about this sort of thing, draw the largest shares of federal aid.  And unless you’ve had your head in a small hole somewhere, we all know about federal subsidies to big businesses.  The record profits from investments are a direct result of government enabling and the way folks who derive their income from speculation talk, they sure sound entitled to me.

So either Mitt Romney does not actually understand what it is he’s criticizing or he’s just feeding bullshit to his base because that’s what they want to hear and he’s pandering.

Either way, he’s playing politics with people many of whom, if the Tea Party got all its wishes and all those programs were shut down tomorrow, would in fact die if the political wet dreams of the Rabid Right came about.

It is the oldest bit of political sordidness in the book to characterize people you don’t like as lazy, incompetent, entitled, useless burdens.  (Oh, and also “they breed like rabbits”, but as the Right seems to be trying to guarantee that I’m not so sure they see that as the insult it used to be.)  It only plays well because people tend not to see reality that causes them dyspeptic pangs of conscience.

Published by Mark Tiedemann

6 comments on “Here’s a Fact”

  1. Every worker who gets a paycheck can look at the stub and see the parts of their EARNED wages withheld for payment toward income tax obligation as well as social security, and there are others. To say that low wage people do not pay income tax is not just distorted and dishonest, it is wilfully fraudulent. We (I had those withholdings every month of my working life, and there are sums withheld from my pension to pay toward income tax obligations) have paid our taxes, but maybe Mr. Romney, who no doubt never had to wait on a paycheck for his monthly income, is not aware of that. And the use of the term “entitlement” is insulting and also dishonest. We PAY for our social security out of every paycheck. We are not getting a handout. If we pay for automobile or homeowners insurance, we do not assume that the insurance company is giving us a handout when we need repairs that are covered by the contract. In fact, by accepting out insurance premiums, the insurance company incurs an obligation to us–that is, it is obliged to cover our losses as stated i nthe contract. By the same token, our regular payments to Social Security represent an obligation on the part of government, not an entitlement (handout) to us. The Republicans who play that language game are, unfortunately, aided and abetted by inattentive or intimidated voters who don’t realize the scam that is visited on them by people like Ryan and Romney–privileged, wealthy, unaware of the realities of life for most people (more than 47% of the population, by the way).

  2. Two things from a conservative’s perspective: one, why is Romney not allowed to pander to his base? You make it sound like some cardinal sin that has caused you to lose trust in him. I’m sure your lack of trust in him begins at a much higher level than an offhand remark to his base. As if…well, Mark, I’m still waiting for a post where Obama panders (or worse). Two: It’s my opinion that too many people are on the dole. Mitt Romney agrees with me. Am I not allowed to have a cut-off point? Where’s yours? 50%? 60% And I am not talking about the truly poor and furthermore, I think you know that that’s not who I’m talking about.

    (This is so much better than facebook. I don’t need everybody I know in this conversation.)

  3. Richard—obviously, any politician is allowed to pander to his base. But given the many instances in the last year that Romney has had to say things which he previously did not believe, I think it fair to draw a distinction between pandering based at least somewhat on truth or principle and pandering just to pander. I actually believe the other side, that he doesn’t understand who and what he’s criticizing. Especially since he or his campaign claimed last week that “middle income” starts at 200 grand. If you plot incomes on a scale and take the numbers at face value, this was a true—the median falls there—but in terms of what such terms mean, it was way out of line with real life.

    On the dole has many meanings—direct welfare payments is still south of 10%. Ten million people are drawing unemployment benefits, but as you know, in order to qualify for such benefits you have to be actively looking for work. If someone is working for a living and still can’t feed their family, I think “being on the dole” is a misapplication of derogation.

    I very much want to see people gainfully employed, for a whole lot of reasons. I’m not inclined to agree with the view that those who can’t find work that covers their cost of living and therefore need help are somehow write-offs, which is the sense I got from Romney’s remarks. But the basic problem is the jobs situation in the country and that is a very complex problem, composed of multiple elements, not least of which is the tendency of certain businesses to increase CEO compensation by outsourcing or some other means of eliminating employees from payrolls which would have enabled said employees to occupy, we presume, the 53% Mr. Romney does like. These were simpleminded, rather elitist platitudes he handed out.

    One more thing about The Dole. Corporate welfare is real and I’m still waiting for someone other than Bernie Sanders to address it—including Obama.

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