Neil Macdonald: The full Romney, a peek behind Mitt's public mask
Mitt Romney was just being honest in those video remarks that are blazing around the country today. Voters should savour them. They’re a fresh, sweet, breeze of candour, blowing through the stale hothouse of American politics.
Romney, though, probably regards them as some sort of nightmare.
Because that surreptitious camera, pointed at the Republican nominee during a private $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Florida May 17, has just ripped away the carefully constructed public mask and given voters a peek at what’s underneath.
In Romney’s case, what’s underneath would appear to be a fellow who regards half the American population with contempt.
Actually, Romney named a precise figure: 47 per cent, all of them riding free on a bus powered by other people’s hard work.
"There are 47 per cent who are with [Obama]," Romney says on the video, "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."
There it is, unvarnished and without the usual mealy-mouthed polish, from the nominee of a political party that likes to accuse Democrats and liberals of promoting "class warfare."
Half the voters in the country are whiny victims. It’s almost unbelievably candid.
"These are people who pay no income tax," he continues. "Forty-seven per cent don't pay income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. They will be out there selling tax cuts for the wealthy . . ."
In saying that, Romney seems to have been relying on a study from the Center for Tax Policy. The 47 per cent is not an economic cohort anyone would want to belong to.
In 2011, said the study, a family with two children making less than $26,400 a year would pay no taxes because of the $11,600 standard deduction, plus four individual exemptions of $3,700 each.
What Romney didn't mention is that that family is already sending Washington tax money, in the form of the rather steep payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare.
But it’s pretty clear what he thinks of them. Again, that’s the beauty of this video. He draws a bright, clear line: There are Americans who contribute, and Americans who freeload.
Now, remember whom Romney was addressing. He was in a comfort zone, talking to like-minded souls who, like Romney, are wealthy, and probably living at least partially off investment income that is lightly taxed, and who want to keep it that way. Actually, I shouldn’t state that flatly. Romney has acknowledged he has income on which he pays only 15 per cent tax because it is from investments, but, unlike Barack Obama, he is keeping the bulk of his recent tax returns a secret, making a full assessment impossible.
But Romney is otherwise transparent. He has just told 110,245,080 American voters (the 47 per cent) not only what he thinks of them, but what he thinks of their piffling votes.
"My job is to not worry about those few. I'll never convince them to take responsibility and care for their lives."
He might have something there, about their relative importance in the democratic process. The U.S. Government’s Census Bureau says people making over $100,000 a year are more than twice as likely to vote than those making under $20,000 a year.
The video is a goldmine of other honesty nuggets. Americans who voted for Obama in 2008, says Romney, "don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he's corrupt."
Again, at least it’s now right out there. Romney, floating the notion that Barack Obama, a man generally regarded as squeaky clean, like Romney himself, is in fact corrupt. Choose accordingly.
There was even new information on the Mideast policy President Romney would follow.
It’s pretty simple, he told the fundraiser: "The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace."
So, he would clarify U.S. policy on Palestinian statehood.
"I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, ‘There's just no way.’"
That said, he concedes that diplomacy has to be more nuanced: "So what you do is you say, ‘You move things along the best way you can’ .… We kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Not a bad description of what’s been going on for decades, actually.
'Not elegantly stated'
Romney’s initial reaction to the Samizdat video was to acknowledge his statements were "not elegantly stated." He also urged whomever has the video to put out the entire thing.
That has now happened and it's not sitting well with right-wing conservatives who disliked Romney in the first place, and have always harbored doubts about his ability to win. Bill Kristol, the prominent neoconservative who was one of the first to endorse Sarah Palin, has already called Romney's remarks "arrogant" and "stupid."
The Obama campaign welcomed the fundraiser performance with barely disguised glee, and turned it into a campaign ad within hours. It’s amazing how fast these ad guys can move.
But the American public should welcome it, too. That video provided more insight than any of the speeches and choreographed events at those endless conventions in Florida and North Carolina.
Barack Obama went through a similar experience last election, in the leaked video where he talked about bitter conservatives embracing God and guns. It was a moment that put into better perspective a candidate who’d been blathering endlessly about how there aren’t Republican Americans and Democratic Americans, only American Americans.
Now Romney has his moment. Democracy is a glorious thing.
- This column originally reported that Mitt Romney "is keeping his tax returns a secret, making a full assessment impossible." Romney has released 2010 tax information and a portion of his 2011 return, but he has so far refused to set out the 10 most recent years of tax returns that Barack Obama and his wife have.Sep 19, 2012 3:23 PM ET