About a week ago, the political commentariat was all in a tizzy over the fabulously candid remarks Mitt Romney made at a Florida fundraiser earlier this year. In case you have no idea what I’m referring to, you can visit Mother Jones (which first broke the story) for the full video.
What has gotten the most attention over the last seven days is Romney’s “47%” figure, referring to the percentage of Americans who don’t pay income taxes. Most commentators have gone to great length to analyze just who makes up this “47%” — ie, the elderly, the poor, and veterans.
These same commentators have also pointed out the numerous logical inconsistencies in Romney’s use of the number. Pointing out, for instance, that not every Obama voter is collecting some form of government support. Or, that not every tax unit without tax liability votes for Obama.
Or, even better, that not every person who is collecting government assistance sees themselves as “victims” who can’t be convinced to “take responsibility and care for their lives.”
So while the “47%” gets parsed over and over, another part of Romney’s remarks seems to have gotten overlooked. By which I mean the part where he claims, with an amazing degree of incredulity, that these people consider themselves “entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Personally, I find it disturbing just how much Gov Romney finds it disturbing that people feel entitled to basic needs. But I’m glad he said it. First, because it accomplishes what the Romney campaign has so far failed to do: show us what the candidate actually thinks. But second, and more important, without realizing it, Gov Romney may have actually managed to shift the conversation of the presidential race to what it needed to be all along — the proper role of government in the lives of individual Americans.
See, Americans do feel they are entitled to healthcare, food, housing, and all those other things that make life, well, livable. As well they should. In spite of our economic difficulties, we remain the largest, strongest, and most robust economy on the planet, and there is simply no excuse for any American to go without having their basic needs met.
Now, I don’t think that Gov Romney necessarily disagrees with that. I’m sure he does believe that every American should have these things. In addition to which, he also believes that every American should be willing to work in order to provide these things for themselves. That, in itself, is not unreasonable. What is lacking in Romney’s perspective, however, is the recognition that there are circumstances beyond an individual’s control. His remarks suggest he believes each and every American collecting government assistance chose to do so, wants to do so, would rather be doing so than earning a paycheck.
Perhaps Romney can’t comprehend not choosing to take advantage of government assistance, since he chooses (we must assume) every year to take full advantage of the tax code to reduce his tax bill to its absolute minimum. And he chooses to utilize the special status of the Cayman Islands in order to avoid taxation even further. And he certainly chose to virtually blackmail the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into writing down his firm’s debt in what amounted to a ten-million dollar bailout for Bain Capital.
But I’m getting off topic.
The point is that, at several points in our nation’s history, we have decided, collectively, as a nation, that it is simply unacceptable that anyone in this country — with its wealth, with its resources, with its alleged espousal of Judeo-Christian values — would be allowed to go without food, medicine, or shelter simply because they are unable to find or perform a paying job. And furthermore, we have decided that the only way to ensure that these provisions are made to everyone who needs them is to provide them through the one institution that is accessible to every American citizen — the federal government.
I have said this more times than I can count, and I will continue to say it until I die — the government is not separate from us, it is us. It is the organ through which we act, as one. We may not always approve of what we do, but that does not change the fact that government, at its best and worst, is nothing more, or less, than a representation of us. So when the poor are given food stamps and Medicaid, the elderly given Social Security and Medicare, the unemployed given financial support while they find new work — it’s not some foreign entity called “the government” that’s doing these things. It’s us. We, the people, using government to act on our common sense that no one should go without.