It’s good that the presidential race will be over in a month and a half, because the issues that have been raised lately sound like bad jokes.
Did you hear the one about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s sweeping generalizations and our cultural affinity for percentage values? No, no, not the joke about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax in which, when referring to those likely to vote for President Barack Obama, Romney argued, “there are 47 percent 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 one’s been beat to death like a dead horse. I’m talking about another comment from the same Romney fundraiser video which was made public by Mother Jones magazine, a comment that expresses Mitt’s sentiment toward the current state of American social mobility.
Still can’t get past the 47 percent? Let me catch you up. At this recent $50,000 per plate fundraiser, Mitt Romney was making a point about the advantages afforded to anyone lucky enough to be born in America. “The greatest gift you could have,” he quipped, “is to get born in America … 95 percent of life is set up for you if you’re born in this country.”
Romney’s comment about government dependent Americans has been rightly condemned by the majority of the blogosphere as well as many liberal and centrist publications. In the richest, most successful nation on earth, citizens should be entitled to basic foodstuffs and health care! The fact that people die of curable diseases such as Lupus or grow up malnourished in a country that also has absurd levels of obesity is unacceptable. But who are we kidding; let them eat cake, right Mitt?
Needless to say, this remark had no problem overshadowing the one about the advantages of being born in America, which was equally important. In fact, it gives us more insight into what a Romney presidency would like than the 47 percent comment.
For one thing, it directly contradicts the patently ridiculous “you didn’t build that” attack ads, in which the Romney campaign insinuates that small business owners construct everything they use from scratch. The 95 percent comment tells us that Romney doesn’t believe the nonsense in his advertising. He understands that being born in America means that you’re allowed to drive on our roads, go to our schools and live with a basic level of general welfare that you wouldn’t be afforded if you were born in Somalia. These services, as well as the political institutions and values of America that created them, are indeed special. And yes, they are provided by the government.
This is not to say that the comment doesn’t have issues. As Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post were keen to point out, even if 95 percent of life is set up for some in America, that certainly does not extend to 95 percent of Americans.
Studies show that about 15 percent of the population still lives at or below the poverty line. While these people are still afforded a quality of life that they might not find elsewhere in the world, their lives are still scattered in a variety of fashions. It is much more difficult for them to create a small business or run for office than it is for someone who was born to parents of a higher socioeconomic level.
But the most important thing about this comment is not its substance, but its ethic. You may think that Romney believes what he said about the 47 percent of people that he thinks will never vote for him. Personally, I think he’s pandering to independents – anyone who got outraged by that comment was not voting Romney to begin with. The reality is, Mitt does believe in a world where government has a role to play. He knows its value for insuring the poor, protecting small businesses and keeping citizens safe.
If you think Mitt’s as evil as the Obama ads make him seem then let me know. It’ll be the first campaign joke I’ve laughed at in a while.
Nathaniel Olson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and psychology.