Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 7:12 am | Overcast 52º


Joe Conason: Looking for That ‘47 Percent,’ Mitt?

Check red states and elderly Republicans

While Mitt Romney may well wish he had expressed himself more “elegantly” at the swanky Boca Raton fundraiser where he denounced half the voting population as shiftless, government-entitled moochers, he isn’t backing away from those secretly recorded remarks — although what he said was entirely inaccurate, as well as obnoxious.

Watching him on video, the Republican nominee sounds not only vulgar and arrogant, but profoundly ignorant about the nation he hopes to govern. “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” said the Republican nominee, who proceeded to describe those people.

“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government ... Those people,” he went on, “believe that they are victims ... believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ... believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Let’s stop right there: Whatever percentage of Americans plan to vote for the president, there is no plausible evidence that they all think of themselves as entitled to government benefits. Nor is there any evidence that all of President Barack Obama’s supporters are, in fact, “dependent on government.” And there is plenty of evidence that Romney supporters — Obama supporters and like many Americans who will not vote at all — receive Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment benefits, housing vouchers, veterans benefits and other forms of federal assistance.

The Republican-leaning moochers, as defined by Romney, can easily be found in the red states, which contribute far less in federal taxes than they receive in per capita benefits. Alabama, for instance, receives almost $4,000 per capita in federal spending on retirement and disability, while contributing just less than $1,000 per capita in federal income taxes. Kentucky receives upwards of $7,000 per capita in direct benefits, including retirement, disability, student assistance and unemployment, but contributes slightly less per capita than Alabama in federal income taxes.

Roughly the same dispensation exists across much of the old Confederacy, where white voters in lower-income brackets will faithfully vote for Romney despite his sneers at them. Across the red states, generally from Mississippi, Arkansas and South Carolina, to Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, the Dakotas and Alaska, there is a clear pattern. More money flows in from Washington via government spending than goes out to Washington via federal taxes, which belies the incessant whining of their “conservative” elected officials. (The difference is made up in revenues from the blue states — New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Minnesota, among others — that receive less from Washington than they pay.)

“These are people who pay no income tax,” Romney told his well-heeled audience in Boca Raton, suggesting that voters who don’t pay income taxes comprise the same alleged 47 percent who will vote in lockstep for the president.

Leaving aside the significant probability that his listeners included a few of the thousands of millionaires who paid no income taxes last year, there is no reason to believe that voters who don’t pay income taxes are certain to vote Democratic. A substantial number of the people who are too poor to pay income taxes, thanks to tax reforms supported by President Ronald Reagan, are among the Southern whites inclined to vote for Romney. In 2008, according to the New York Times, 25 percent of voters earning less than $15,000 per year and 37 percent of those earning $15,000 to $30,000 per year voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

An even more substantial number are older Americans who rely on Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, and who have displayed an increasing tendency to vote Republican in recent elections (until this week, at least). Four years ago, voters over 65 years old supported McCain over Obama by a margin of eight points, and the most recent New York Times survey shows the same group backing Romney this year by a margin of 15 points.

Summing up his erroneous assessments, Romney said, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Perhaps that cold remark falls within the category of opinion rather than fact. But does Romney truly believe that a lifelong worker, an impoverished veteran, a struggling student, an elderly widow or any of the millions of Americans in similar straits don’t merit the concern of the president of the United States?

That ugly sentiment, an insult to every citizen of this country, would be hard to express more “elegantly” without the use of a four-letter word.

Joe Conason is editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @JConason.

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