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.
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.