Last week, a presidential nominee denigrated almost half the electorate. Much of the news and analysis surrounding leaked footage from a private Mitt Romney fundraiser has focused on what the video means for the election and whether his facts were correct. But the fact that Romney stands by his comments means that we need to look again at the ideas behind his statements.
In the video, Romney describes 47 percent of Americans as “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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.” Actually, 100 percent of Americans are dependent on government. It’s how we coordinate infrastructure, national defense, legal systems, an educated population and some degree of cohesion. Romney’s emphasis, of course, was on income support and health care programs, which are more contested. But that still would include groups like veterans and retired individuals who have contributed towards Social Security. And did he seriously include food on that list? Even someone who supports limited government should understand that calories are hugely important to national productivity. Low-income employees need energy to work, and unemployed individuals need to be sustained so they can put effort into the job search.
“Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.” This effectively shows not only that he wants tax cuts for the wealthy but also that he doesn’t think other people are taxed enough. This came from the candidate who has refused to release most of his tax returns. In continuing about this 47 percent, he said, “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 their lives.” He’s referring to winning voters at this point, so I won’t use this to assume he doesn’t care about low- or middle-income individuals. But if he’s sure that he can never convince almost half of the electorate to take personal responsibility, then that’s a rejection of social mobility.
In talking about his heritage, Romney said, “Had [my dad] been born of Mexican parents I’d have a better shot at winning this.” Some reactions have discussed this statement as a reference to Romney’s unpopularity among the Hispanic electorate. In other words, he was being playful about how to get more votes. If I give Romney this benefit of the doubt, then it seems like he believes voters vote based on identity markers more than on issues and policy. That could be true for some, but it isn’t true for most. Despite Sarah Palin’s chance to make history as the first female vice president, she did not sway enough women voters to win. Just because we are the same race and share similar ethnic heritages doesn’t mean I will vote for Bobby Jindal if he runs for president. It’s important to have minorities represented in government, but it’s even more important that they advocate for minorities at-large to account for uneven playing fields. Given Romney’s stances on immigration, reproductive rights and LGBT rights, it’s clear he doesn’t prioritize advocating for marginalized individuals, so any connections to the Hispanic electorate wouldn’t actually help.
The most frustrating aspect about the comment on Mexican heritage was that it was followed by a conversation about preferential admissions for minorities. Affirmative action policies are important because of structural and societal discrimination and a system where having more resources increases one’s chance of success. Admission policy, though helpful, alone can’t correct for all the uneven playing fields already underneath us. Because he donated his inheritances, Romney said, “I had inherited nothing. Everything that Ann and I have we earned the old-fashioned way, and that’s by hard work.” The reason Romney is out-of-touch is not because he’s rich; it’s because he credits only hard work and hasn’t acknowledged his opportunities and resources as a white, straight man from a wealthy family. I don’t mean to say that these are the only modes of opportunity or that Romney hasn’t struggled. But it is obvious Romney either doesn’t know opportunity is unequal or doesn’t care.
The reason why much of the commentary has not bothered to analyze his words is probably because the video was so obviously misguided. His disrespect is clear, as is the choice that he should not be the president of the United States.
Rajlakshmi De is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Rajlakshmi on Twitter @RajDe4.