Romney’s ’47 percent’ comments: Needed honesty or political gaffe?

Two days ago, liberal magazine Mother Jones released a video of Mitt Romney talking about the nearly 50 percent of Americans who are dependent on the federal government for at least some of their income. Romney also talked about the 47 percent of Americans who pay no individual income taxes. His conclusion in the video — which Mother Jones took secretly at a fundraiser several months ago — was that he was never going to win the votes of those people, since his message is about low taxes and decreasing government dependence.

As is typical when a non-liberal talks about the truth of dependency on government, the media has become apoplectic. Never mind that Romney was largely speaking the truth.

Romney’s statement has drawn many negative reactions, and while some of them have substance (such as Quin Hillyer’s excellent points), others do not. Here are a few that have made news:

First, Romney’s statement includes senior citizens, who are on Medicare and Social Security. These programs, while transfer payments, are the result of an implicit government promise to citizens who are forced to invest in these programs throughout their working lives. It is doubtful Romney meant to say seniors are mooching off of the system.

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Second, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart claims Romney said he doesn’t care about those on the lower income scale. This is either dishonest or a simple mishearing. In fact, Romney said he doesn’t worry about the people in this 47 percent because he knows he won’t win their votes. It was a statement about electoral strategy, plain and simple.

Ironically, speaking of electoral strategy, the same political pundit class now bashing Romney used to agree with him — this election will be won by gaining support from the relatively small percentage of independent voters who are undecided. Which is what Romney said.

Third, Romney is mostly correct that people on government programs don’t want to get off of them. While it is unfair and inaccurate to say all people on those programs want to stay dependent, the fact is that debates over Medicaid, food stamps, and other dependency programs usually focus on slowing the growth of those programs, not cutting them — and it is often the people on those programs who are most vocally for them. As a farmer explained to me once, his family could make more money by farming the land they own. However, since the government money is free, they simply take it and move on.

Fourth, the most legitimate criticism of Romney is the fact that the economy stinks and people are struggling. While government dependence is not the answer to a weak economy, blame for the current economic malaise should almost entirely be laid on the backs of the last several Congresses, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, the Board of the Federal Reserve, and the large banks — all of whom conspired to bail out banks, auto companies, and other select, connected industries… all while leaving the average American in serious financial straits.

Regardless of the political class’ response, yesterday morning Tea Party Patriots co-founder and national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin spelled out exactly why grassroots activists should care about what Romney said: “Since 2009, Tea Party Patriots across the nation have said: Enough!:  Enough of big government supporting failed companies. Enough of big government health care schemes that rob American families of the freedom to choose the best care for them.:  Enough of big government that divides this great nation into factions that fight for their own government handouts.”

And that’s what it all comes down to. Government handouts were supposed to prevent the collapse of the economy. That failed. Then they were supposed to help us out of economic recession. That failed. Yet social programs continue to grow in cost and size; data calculated by Just Facts President Jim Agresti show that 61 percent of federal spending was for social programs in 2010. This has grown from approximately 22 percent of federal spending in 1959. As the cost of government health care continues to rise, especially as the President’s health care act begins to take full effect, this dependence on social programs will only grow.

Sooner or later, barring a massive tax increase on all Americans, social dependence on the federal government will shrink dramatically. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), this can either happen in a controlled way — through deliberate spending cuts — or through a collapse of the American economy as investors choose to stop buying our debt. No American wants to see the latter, and so it is long past time for Americans to start decreasing their dependence on the federal government while significantly reforming the tax code. Nothing else will prevent the fiscal collapse of our nation.

Dustin Siggins is the online content coordinator and blogger for Tea Party Patriots. Tea Party Patriots is a national grassroots coalition with more than 3,500 local chapters and more than 15 million supporters nationwide. The opinions expressed are his own. This piece was originally published at the American Spectator blog.

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