Commentary: Maybe Mitt Romney should make voters worry

The State (Columbia, S.C.)September 21, 2012 


Protesters gather outside the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota as supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrive for an afternoon rally Thursday.

PAUL VIDELA — MCT/Bradenton Herald

Why does Mitt Romney want to be president, given the disdain he showed for nearly half of all Americans during a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser?

Beats me. But just in case he wins, I want it to be known that I repaid the student loans I took out while attending the University of South Carolina. I wouldn’t want the president to think I’m one of those “victims” who simply want to mooch off the government.

And all those free lunches I got during my K-12 years? I didn’t really enjoy them as much as I said I did. I would rather have had a turkey sandwich from home — if we could have afforded it.

But I’m sure Mr. Romney would have been proud that my mom — who raised her 11 children alone — willingly rejected food stamps after trying them for a short period. She said it was too much of a hassle; she decided to trust God and take care of us as best she could. Mr. Romney has got to like that act of personal responsibility, right?

Of course, Mom would probably lose a few points for drawing Social Security benefits, but maybe she’d earn them back for having labored for years as a domestic at the home of a local veterinarian who built his own animal clinic.

OK, so I really don’t care what Mr. Romney would think of me.

But I do care — and we all should — that a man seeking the highest office in the land would make such offensive, repugnant and arrogant remarks.

Don’t take my word for it. His speak for themselves:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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 … . These are people who pay no income tax … . My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

While it’s true many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes, Mr. Romney’s comments were laced with obvious disdain and just a plain wrong-headed assessment of the resolve of Americans in general, whether they’re rich or poor, to work hard to become successful and care for their families.

In the working-class community I grew up in, we didn’t need a hand out or motivation; we needed a healthy lunch that allowed us to focus on learning rather than hunger during class. And student loans and other aid that gave us an opportunity to earn degrees and become dentists and teachers and nurses and law officers who contribute to society.

I’m not sure Mr. Romney knows how many groups of people, including large numbers of his prospective supporters, he took a swipe at.

The two most obvious groups he calls out — and writes off at the same time — are those who don’t pay federal income tax and those who receive some sort of public aid. Problem is the composition of those groups are a lot more complicated than meets the eye.

According to a July 2011 report by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, 46.4 percent of Americans pay “zero or negative” income tax. Of course, the fact is that most people pay other taxes such as payroll tax and state and local sales taxes and user fees.

To hear Mr. Romney and others who frequently lament that 47 percent don’t pay federal income taxes tell it, you’d think they were deadbeats who intentionally aren’t pulling their weight and who have concocted a way to beat the system.

But the truth is that those Americans don’t pay income taxes because this nation’s leaders decided to use the tax code to help the poor, the elderly, the disabled and, yes, the wealthy.

Of that 46.4 percent cited by the Tax Policy Center, about half do not pay income taxes because of standard provisions for those with very low incomes and for dependents. The other half do not pay income taxes for a variety of reasons. The elderly receive an extra standard deduction and an exemption for a portion of Social Security benefits, and more. There are also credits for children and the working poor, including the child tax credit, the child and dependent care tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Others end up paying no income taxes because of the effects of itemized deductions, education credits and reduced rates on capital gains and dividends, among other things.

While we might concentrate on folks of lower means, you might recall that there is significant debate about what level of income tax Mitt Romney pays, since his investment wealth is taxed as capital gains.

Mr. Romney suggested that everyone who receives public aid — food stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, “you-name-it” — are self-proclaimed victims, who think they’re entitled. Census figures show that about half of American households receive a so-called government entitlement.

So, exactly who all is Mr. Romney referring to? Is it just the poor? Or does he include the elderly? What about military families and retirees who seek public aid? The Defense Commissary Agency says that food stamp purchases at military commissaries nearly tripled from 2008 to 2011, rising from $31 million to nearly $88 million.

Maybe he’s talking about folks like the late Neil Armstrong, who attended college on the GI Bill. Or even his vice presidential running mate, House Republican Paul Ryan, who used Social Security survivors benefits to help pay his college tuition. Or President Obama and the first lady, who have always talked openly about having to rely on student loans.

This isn’t simply a slip of the tongue or a few stray words. Mr. Romney didn’t stutter; he was clear and comfortable in the country club environment in which he sought to raise money and appeal to an element in his party he thought would not only embrace such a message but show some love to the messenger.

Mr. Romney might not care much how people receive his comments.

After all, he said it’s not his “job” to “worry about” all citizens. Maybe voters should worry about him.

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