Next week, it will be something else.
According to NBC News (and that's a link to the full transcript) the infamous "47% remarks" are these:
Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that's-- it's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.The NBC transcript reflects a break in the audio there; whether Mr. Romney said anything intelligent or intelligible immediately after this can not be known. When the transcript resumes, Mr. Romney is talking about China and (apparently) defense spending.
And-- and-- I mean the president starts off with 48%, 49%, 40-- or he-- he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every-- every four years.
And-- and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5% to 10% in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion. Whether they like the guy or not. What they-- what it looks like. I mean the-- it's the-- the-- when you ask those people-- we do all these polls. I find it amazing. We poll all these people, see where you stand in the polls. About 45% of the people will vote for the Republican and 48% or 49%--
Now, let's start off a sensible analysis by acknowledging that Mr. Romney was speaking informally, to a group of potential donors (many of whom were not shy about interjecting their own opinions into his remarks).
This was not a prepared speech. Granted, Mr. Romney was riffing on familiar themes -- but, if you are among the many who believe that President Clinton's recent address to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte was a tour de force (and I refrain from expressing an opinion because I didn't watch it) you perhaps know that the Clintons acknowledged that there was extensive preparation for that moment. Mr. Clinton was not speaking off-the-cuff, whether or not he departed occasionally from his carefully prepared text.
Like Gov. Romney, President Obama has not always fared well without a teleprompter -- to the point where, early in his term, Mr. Obama was ridiculed for using teleprompters on even minor occasions.
But there was a good reason.
Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign was almost derailed by the leak of informal remarks that he made to a group of supporters in San Francisco (this was during the primary season, so both Sen. McCain and Hilary Clinton piled on).
You remember, don't you? Quoting now from the April 12, 2008 Chicago Tribune, accessed this morning via Lexis ("Foes try to label Obama elitist; They say he slighted rural Americans," by John McCormick):
Sen. Barack Obama was criticized Friday by his two fellow presidential candidates for statements he made recently at a San Francisco fundraiser that could be viewed as derogatory toward rural America.Yes, it was persistent opposition research (like James Carter IV's digging in the current case of Gov. Romney) that brought these remarks into the light of day: What percentage of America did then-Sen. Obama casually dismiss with these seemingly snide remarks?
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said Sunday, according to the Huffington Post Web site.
"And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not," Obama reportedly continued. "It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Obama does not allow reporters into fundraisers at private homes, so they were not reported at the time.
So: If you want to insist that Gov. Romney's remarks are a shaft of sunlight illuminating his sick, twisted soul, don't you also have to see Mr. Obama as a faculty-lounge elitist who harbors naught but disdain for those without his Ivy League credentials (and who "cling" to foolish things like religion)?
Instead, let's start by agreeing that candidates -- just like real people -- will speak more colloquially, less carefully, in shorthand, when they think they are speaking off the record. And we shouldn't hold candidates accountable for garbling statistics when they speak extemporaneously -- unfortunately, statistics are so politicized at this point that we can hardly believe anything we hear anyway even when candidates are attempting to speak for posterity.
We can also agree that 47% of Americans are not entirely dependent on government. We have a transfer payment problem in this country, but we're not Greece. At least, not yet. It is instinctive among Republicans to think immediately of "welfare queens" but, to the extent such creatures may be found, they are not the only ones who live off what the government provides. For example, among those that truly are entirely dependent upon our government are our permanently disabled troops. So dependency per se is not an indictment of those dependent.
On the other hand, I live in Chicago. I know welfare was reformed during the Clinton administration and requirements tightened. But I also know that, despite these reforms, there are generations of families here where no one has been (legally) employed. Illegal employment -- such as the selling of drugs -- has fueled our incredible murder rate, a murder rate higher (at least by some reckonings) than the rate in Kabul or Baghdad. (There are other factors that account for the recent increases in our murder rate; illegal drugs has long been the strongest industry in many of our worst areas. I tend to believe sources like Second City Cop which blame an [officially unacknowledged] decline in police manpower for the murder surge -- a lid has come off.) One of the big problems in our school strike (just settled, supposedly) was that so many kids depend on the schools to provide breakfast and lunch. The CHA's infamous skyscraper projects are gone, but the people who lived there are not: There are many dependent on the government for housing. Long before Obamacare, poor Chicagoans obtained medical treatment at the taxpayers' expense at Cook County Hospital.
So, if Mr. Romney were more careful, and simply said that there are some "[w]ho are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it[;] that  it's an entitlement[;] [a]nd the government should give it to them," would he have been wrong?
Would he have then been wrong to suggest that persons who depend on one level of government or another for food, shelter, and healthcare are the least likely to support his candidacy?
Jesus said the poor will always be with us. In saying that, He gave no license to ignore poverty or permission to look the other way as people suffer or starve.
But, though there may always be some who must have the help of us all or go under, should government policy be to foster independence or dependence on government's largesse?
You know what killed Republican Rome, don't you? Bread and circuses.
At first it was the free distribution of grain to the city's poor in conjunction with the funeral games of some noble. An occasional magnanimous gesture. But it evolved. It grew. Soon grain had to be produced as incentives to support this candidate or that one. In office, the young man trying to climb the cursus honorum would have to fashion better games and better grain distribution than did his predecessors. Soon free grain was a feature of every public observance -- and there were public observances virtually every day. Rome became a city entirely dependent on grain handouts. Those who would lead the city and the empire based from the city had to keep the mob happy.... Eventually the Republic was swept away by the Caesars, but even the Emperors had to keep the favor of the Roman mob. A number died trying.
Our Founding Fathers were far better steeped in the Classics than contemporary Americans. They feared direct democracy and created a Republic to keep an 'American mob' from forming. And they were dead set against government giveaways. Thus, James Madison could say to the House of Representatives in 1794, "The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." On another occasion in 1794, Madison told the House that governmental charity "might hereafter be perverted to the countenance of purposes very different from those of charity." He could not find, he said, any passage in the Constitution that gave a power to "Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
With the horrible example of Rome clearly before them, our Founding Fathers were scared to death of what might happen if citizens became increasingly dependent on the government for their existence.
I am still a taxpayer. I am not -- yet -- wholly dependent on the government for my existence. But all of us are increasingly dependent on government. Case in point: College tuition.
I put up a post here in February 2006, "It's FAFSA time again." FAFSA has become, in my lifetime, the cornerstone of all college financial aid:
In the FAFSA you tell the government how much you earn and how much you've saved and the government tells you how much you are expected to "contribute" to your child's college education. It is also used to determine eligibility for student loans and work study. Even "academic" scholarships typically require parents to submit FAFSA's.I wrote how my father refused to fill out any papers for government-supported loans. When he ran out of money to supplement whatever I was able to contribute, he sent me to his bank to take out a private loan.
Somehow the government always thinks I can pay more than I think I can pay.
There was a time when middle class parents would be mortified at making such a comprehensive disclosure of their assets -- but there was also a time when an ambitious kid, working during the summer and part-time during the school year, could put a sizeable dent in his or her own tuition. That time is called the "distant past."
Of course, tuition was miniscule then, compared to what it is now. Tuition for higher education has rocketed ahead at a pace far greater than inflation.
Government assistance helps me ameliorate the effect of these increases -- college is not yet beyond the American middle class, but paying for college without government assistance is beyond the reach of more and more each year. Is the availability of government assistance also a cause of the dramatic increase in college costs? There are rational people out there who will say yes.
Should we be looking at programs like FAFSA -- not to deny families the chance to send their kids to college -- but to explore whether a noble intention has created a larger problem? Should we look instead for ways to decrease dependence on FAFSA rather than pour increasingly more government money into student loans?
We could look at any government program (and a lot of tax deductions, too) and ask these questions. Don't you wish the candidates would explain why we should abjure or embrace increasing dependence on government and why each candidate thinks their position right? In public, I mean, not just when talking to persons who already support them....