Newspaper article

What's Wrong with What Romney Said: From Thurston Howell to Pandering

Newspaper article

What's Wrong with What Romney Said: From Thurston Howell to Pandering

Article excerpt

You know by now that an unauthorized tape emerged over the weekend of remarks by Mitt Romney at a private fund-raiser in May in which he told the donors that he had no chance of winning the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax because those are people "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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what..."

There are so many things wrong here that it's dizzying. I'll try to dash off a few of the most dramatic problems.

The reinforcement: Every candidate has some negative elements of his public persona that he needs to overcome. The worst blunders are when the politician reinforces the negatives. Romney's statement reinforces his negatives nine ways from Sunday. For example:

The Thurston Howellness: Thurston Howell III was the snobby rich guy on "Gilligan's Island." David Brooks headlined his brilliant, rueful takedown of Romney this morning "Thurston Howell Romney." When you are a child of privilege, educated at Stanford and Harvard, worth $250 million and you need votes from people who are worth considerably less, you need to constantly avoid saying or doing anything that suggest you look down on poor people. Oy.

The not-intended-for publication-ness: You can, if you choose (and I do sort of choose) to feel some sympathy for the fishbowl in which candidates must live, and they must live with the possibility that anything they say, even in supposedly private, off-the-record meeting, might go public and blow up on them. But tough luck. When you are someone like Romney, whose demeanor in public conjures a phony air, things like this that you say when you think the public won't find out about them are all the more alluring because they will seem so much more genuine.

The setting. It was the Boca Raton mansion of a private equity magnate at a $50,000 a plate fund-raiser. Nuff said?

The facts. In the age of fact-checking, Romney has developed a reputation for cheating on facts. His campaign staff has unfortunately said on the record that the campaign is not being run for fact-checkers. While it is roughly true that 47 percent of households pay no federal income tax, the least effort to get a little context on that puts it quickly in the category of "true lie." A big chunk of those 47 percent pay federal payroll (FICA) taxes. A big chunk of them pay no income taxes because they are retirees living on Social Security. (And be careful Mr. Romney, the elderly are a key Republican voting group.) The pay-no-income-taxes lump also includes students, wounded vets. …

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