The 47 Percent Responds

Terrance Heath

Bloggers and pundits have completely picked apart what Mitt Romney had to say about “the 47 percent” in that secret video leaked by Mother Jones magazine. As I posted yesterday, we know that nearly 47 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes, because they don’t earn enough to owe federal income taxes. We know that those 47 percent of Americans pay plenty of other taxes: local and state taxes, payroll taxes, and sales taxes. Some pay up to nearly 25% of their income those taxes.

We know what Romney was talking about when he reached out to donors. We know what he got right and wrong, according to the numbers. But what may cause serious and lasting trouble for the Romney campaign is that millions of Americans now know who Romney was talking about, behind the safety of closed doors. They know he’s talking about them and their loved ones — and they don’t like it. Not one bit.

In one of those “quiet rooms” Romney talked about during the primaries, Mitt Romney broke things down for some of his big donors.

“[They] will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% 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 healthcare, 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 …

“[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

In fact, some those lazy deadbeats Romney described, quietly serving food and pouring drinks while listening to Romney slandering them in order to coax open his donors checkbooks. (That’s why its rather poetic that the video was apparently recorded by a member of the food services staff at the event.) They could only take it as slander, because Romney’s words reveal that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he says the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes don’t want to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Neither does Paul Ryan know what he’s talking about when he opines about “more and more people becoming net dependent upon the government than upon themselves.”

What Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don’t understand about personal responsibility, is that not having money means taking more responsibility for just about everything.

Put aside the tin-eared term “those people.” When he said this, Romney didn’t just write off half the country behind closed doors. He also confirmed the worst suspicions about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.

The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier, that give you time and space to focus on what you want to focus on.

That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.

The problem is living the dream has blinded him to other people’s reality. His comments evince no understanding of how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, how awful it is to choose between skipping a day on a job you can’t afford to lose and letting your sick child fend for herself. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.

Lack of understanding is one thing. The ignorant can be educated. What’s likely to haunt Romney is the lack of understanding combined with the utter resentment Romney expressed this statement: “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Readers of The New York Times responded to Romney’s disdainful remarks:

Mitt Romney’s comments felt as if he were stabbing me in the heart. I stopped breathing for a few seconds with a profound feeling that I was trapped in another world where people have no clue, not one little clue of what it’s like to have to struggle to get through every single day.

Years ago, times were rough for my family, and we went on food stamps for a few months. We took our children to a free clinic. Yes, we took government assistance for a few months, and I’m forever grateful that it was there to help us get through some dark times.

If we cannot help the poorest among us when assistance is needed, what kind of a people are we? Look in the mirror; ask yourself that question, then decide what a decent human being would do.

ROZ LEVINE

Los Angeles, Sept. 18, 2012

I woke up early this morning and drove my daughter several miles on a government-built road, all the way to a government-operated school.

I came back to my home — for which I receive a government-sanctioned mortgage-interest deduction — and called my parents, who both receive Social Security and Medicare from the government. Then I signed on to the Internet, which was developed by government-sponsored researchers.

So Mitt Romney is right, on two counts. I am “dependent upon government.” And I’m not voting for him.

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN

New York, Sept. 18, 2012

The writer is a professor of education and history at New York University.

Mitt Romney says there are people who believe that they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing.” What’s so shocking about that? These are basic human needs.

Would he rather see people on the streets of every city in the country sick, hungry and homeless? And by the way, a president of the United States is supposed to have the interest of all Americans at stake, not just a handful of the rich.

MARY CARTER

Placitas, N.M., Sept. 18, 2012

David Atkins, a County Democratic Party Chairman in California, got a phone call from a man who was moved by Romney’s remarks to “as much swag and material for President Obama as he could.”

As a County Democratic Party Chairman (in Ventura County, CA), I get a lot of phone calls throughout the day from voters and volunteers with various complaints and requests, usually about minor details. But one call from yesterday struck me in particular. A man who sounded like a caucasian in his 60s or 70s had called our field organizer but wanted to speak to me directly about picking up as much swag and material for President Obama as he could, from lawn signs to bumper stickers. Curiously, he wanted to let me know that he was not a Democrat and not particularly political. But, he said (and I paraphrase based on my best memory of the conversation):

“I just couldn’t believe he said that. I was shocked when I heard it. I can’t believe someone in either Party would say something like that about Americans. Let me tell you something. I’ve worked hard my entire life, never took a handout from anybody. But Romney just insulted me and treated me like I’m nothing. Like I’m less than nothing. I’m one of the 47% that he’s talking about. I’m retired on a modest income after a lifetime of working to support myself and my family. That guy has no idea what he’s talking about. But I just wanted to tell you personally that I’m not a big fan of either Party, but I want to buy as many different kinds of Obama stuff as you can give me, because that just isn’t right. I’m pretty upset.”

Romney’s disdain has people like Leslie Boyd seething.

The more I think about it, the madder I get.

I know I said a piece about Mitt’s comments yesterday, but since then I’ve been thinking about all the people who don’t pay income tax — Mitt most likely included.

There’s my friend, Lynn, who worked in human services all her life for low pay. She’s on Medicare now and she gets Social Security. She’s not on the dole and she’s not looking for a handout.

Then there’s my friend, Mike, who was injured in service to his country, and the woman he would love to marry. She has diabetes and would lose her health care if she married him. She also would love to get a job working with children, but she can’t because most of those jobs don’t come with health benefits.

All three of these people are better Americans than Mitt will ever be.

It gets even more personal for Boyd, when she writes about her son, Mike — who became one of the 47 percent when he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Mike was uninsured, because of a birth defect that was considered a pre-existing condition, and as a couldn’t afford the colonoscopy that might have detected his cancer. Boyd write that Mike had to leave his wife in order to get Medicaid. Mike applied three times for disability, only get turned down twice, and then finally approved — only to die nine days before his his first check arrived.

He was one of the “47 percent” after he got sick, but he wasn’t looking for a handout. He wanted to work, but he was too sick. He even tried working a part-time job for a couple months, but he couldn’t even work two hours without a nap.

In the end, everyone got paid except Mike. He never had the dignity of deciding what bills to pay because we all paid his bills for him. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends and family who love them the way we loved Mike.

My son was not a bum. He was not lazy. He was terminally ill and still couldn’t get what he needed, even though he had paid into the system for 15 years.

These are some of the people Mitt Romney isn’t interested in.

And no Mitt, it wouldn’t help if you were Latino. I have a feeling you would be the same arrogant bastard no matter what your ethnicity.

It’s not just left-leaning people like Boyd that are likely to find Mitt Romney’s scorn hard to take. Romney’s re-election chances depend on state with the largest percentage of “dependent” residents. Conservative columnist William Kristol pointed out that Romney’s “arrogant and stupid” remarks are likely to alienate quite a few conservative voters — in a race where

It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters — especially of course seniors (who might well “believe they are entitled to heath care,” a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan. So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.

And at the Daily Beast, Justin Green shared some reader reactions to Romney’s remarks, including a few from conservative Republicans.

One astutely muses about cognitive dissonance among the many conservative Republicans within the 47%.

My new husband, a fervent conservative and talk radio listener, has not paid income tax for three out of the last four years due to business losses. I wonder how it will go over in our house when I point out he is part of the 47%.

And this reader is furious at Romney’s indifference to senior citizens.

I am so mad at this video I can hardly see straight!

Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the “47% of Americans who pay no income tax” include an awful lot of senior citizens on Social Security and meager pensions? My parents (dad died at 82, mom passed at 90) paid no income tax the last 5 years of their lives (13 in the case of my mom) because their pension was too small for them to owe income tax! My dad was in the Navy during WWII; my mom was a civilian employee of the Dept. of War during WWII. They raised two kids who turned out to be pretty solid citizens( I am definitely in the 1%, my married sister died young of cancer, but parented two solid kids of her own and THEY now have kids!), worked for over 40 years, took care of THEIR elderly parents when it became necessary, and retired on the pension they had paid into for all those years. And my parents also paid into Medicare, and used it when they needed it.

And Mitt Romney DARES to consider my parents to be moochers and takers and lacking in responsibility?!?!?? Screw him and the tax deduction dressage horse he rode in on!

It’s that last one that gets me, because even though I’m about as far from being a “conservative Republican” as you can get, I can identify with it. My parents were married for 50 years, until my father passed away from esophageal cancer about six years ago. My father spent more than twenty of those years in the U.S. Army, before he retired from the military and joined the civilian workforce. My mom stayed at home, and considered it her job to help take care of what my father earned (as well as taking care of the house and us kids).

Now, mom received my dad’s Social Security benefits, which — along with his military and civilian pensions — help her remain in the home they shared for over 30 years, and in which my father died.

I’ve written before about my mother and all that she does in her community.

For me, my mother has always been an example quiet faith that speaks loudest with its actions. For as long as I can remember, she’s been engaged in helping others; quietly, without fanfare, and mostly without receiving or looking for special recognition. While I was growing up and even long after I’d graduated from college and moved to Washington, my mother worked to support her church’s food bank, which gave food to low-income families in the community around the church. For a number of years, she ran the food bank. In addition, she could be found in the church kitchen after a funeral, helping to feed the family of the deceased and other bereaved. She’s also helped council teenage mothers in the community.

She’s not shy about her faith, yet she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve either. And she has little patience with people who do make a big deal of their religion if their faith doesn’t show in their actions. “A sermon you can see,” she always says, “is better than any you can hear.”

See, the 47 percent Mitt Romney disdains include single mothers like the ones my mom helps in her community.

Mitt Romney told contributors at a private fundraiser in May that women are open to supporting him and that he can “capture women’s votes” — but Janelle Matous’ won’t be one of them.

The single mother, 30, has a 4-year-old son and is a full-time student studying photojournalism at the University of Texas, where she maintains a 3.7 GPA. She also works 20 hours a week at a non-profit, earning $18,000 a year.

With loans and grants, her annual income is just around $22,000. Each month, $900 of that goes straight to her rent. That, she said, is what it costs to live in a neighborhood where she feels safe as a single woman and where she doesn’t have to spend too much money on gas getting to and from work and shuttling her son around.

Matous said she pays Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, but does not pay income tax. She also gets government help with day care expenses, an earned income credit, and is able write off certain expenses, such as her school books.

She does not think she should have to apologize for any of this.

The 47 percent Mitt Romney slanders and disdains include people like my mom, and people like David Gilbert-Pederson, who are helping to keep their communities vibrant.

Four years ago, then-17-year-old David Gilbert-Pederson made headlines as the youngest delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Time Magazine published a picture of him in an Obama shirt and a backwards baseball cap, and a Minnesota blog went with a photo of him standing in a sideways half-hug with the Democratic candidate, a huge grin plastered to his boyish face.

Like so many of the other young people who helped President Barack Obama win his first term as president, Gilbert-Pederson isn’t quite the fan that he once was, and he took exception to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s recent assertion that 47 percent of the country is going to vote for Obama “no matter what.” Although Gilbert-Pederson makes a salary small enough to qualify him as part of the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, he didn’t plan on voting for Obama until just a few weeks ago. Romney’s performance at the Republican National Convention convinced him that a Romney presidency would be bad news for the country, and specifically for his family.

…Gilbert-Pederson earns 800 dollars a month working for a community organization in Minnesota that helps underwater homeowners negotiate with mortgage lenders. Although Romney suggested that Americans who make that kind of money generally don’t work very hard, Gilbert-Pederson says he works between eight and 10 hours a day. Yesterday, he put in 11 hours, he said.

At some point, he’d like to make more money, Gilbert-Pederson said. But for now, his current pay is enough to cover rent and basic needs. Gilbert-Pederson’s employer is Occupy Our Homes MN, which grew out of the local Occupy movement. The group is largely driven by volunteers and homeowners who are fighting foreclosure, though it offers a small stipend to a handful of full-time organizers. So far, Occupy Our Homes MN says it has helped around six people stay in their homes, and some of those efforts have garnered widespread attention. Gilbert-Pederson is helping the group develop a database to keep better track of its supporters.

Gilbert-Pederson noted that he doesn’t depend on government help. He gets healthcare through his parents, a librarian and an educator, and he doesn’t receive food stamps, unemployment, or any other safety-net benefits. “Whereas some of Romney’s big-business contributors have received government money from federal bailouts, and they’ve received tax breaks, some of the people who don’t pay income taxes are doing things to enhance our communities,” Gilbert-Pederson said. “We’re helping keep our communities vibrant.”

These are the people Mitt Romney says don’t take responsibility for themselves, let alone others. These are the people Mitt Romney essentially says don’t really matter.

Granted, Romney didn’t intend for them to hear his words, which were reserved for those who could afford to donate $50,000 or more for the privilege of hearing them. But, thanks to the work of a fellow 47-percenter, the word is out; these Americans now know exactly What Mitt Romney thinks of them.

This puts Mitt Romney in a difficult position. He now has say to these Americans, “I wasn’t talking about you,” and make enough of them believe it.

As a black gay man, I’ve seen this from the other side, but so people who belong to other minority groups. It goes something like this:

  • Someone says something incredibly offensive about blacks/gays/women, etc., without realizing that a member of that group is within earshot.
  • Upon realizing what’s happened, the offender turns to the offended and says in an almost pleading tone, “Oh, but I didn’t mean you,” in an effort to convince us that they were really talking about those other black/gays/women, etc., who are really the bad ones.

That almost never works.

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