Everybody is now familiar with the leaked videotape of Mitt Romney’s comments on the 47% during a campaign fundraiser held in May. The American media has spared no time and left no holds barred in providing scathing criticisms of his comments and its implications. So much so, the real issue at hand is lost, or at best, obscured in a remote column somewhere. You will see a lot of judgment and opinion, but no inspection or meditation. The closest one does find to ‘inspection’ is the actual breakdown of the 47% who do not pay income taxes. But that is not the issue that should be the focus of Romney’s comments.
Before going to his actual comments, it would be prudent to put the whole comments into proper context. Everyone has seen the comments. But how many actually know what question Romney was trying to answer? His comments about the 47 percent were in response to this question:
Audience member: For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?
The inquiry is not only clear and specific, it is also very important. The audience member is worried, and presumably tired, of hearing the rhetoric emphasizing government dependency by President Obama in all his policies and speeches. And now he wants to know how Mitt Romney intends to convince the same set of people that the right thing to do is actually to assume responsibility for oneself and not depend on the government’s plans.
It is to this question that Mitt Romney responds with the now well publicized comments. I am only going to quote one small line that, perhaps, best serves as a platform for my arguments:
Romney: And so my job is not to worry about those people— I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
There are two things to this. First, his comment about ‘my job is not to worry about these people…’ is only being said in context with who he can target for votes in the elections – NOT with regard to who he intends to care for when he is President. It is important to emphasize that this can only be seen within the proper context of the question asked. (And of course, the media won’t tell you that).
Second, when he says “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”, he is making an extremely profound observation. Its spontaneity may have likely clouded the message. But that is not to imply that the message isn’t there.
Mitt Romney is not only talking about entitlement, but he is also pointing out what it does to a society in the long run. Subsidies, tax breaks, welfare schemes and food stamps are quick fire and sure shot processes to put money in the hands of the vast middle and lower class. There will be a lot of beneficiaries and a lot of happy people. Condition of life will generally improve and a lot of praise will be given to the President for having taken up this initiative. These welfare programs continue in their various forms, expanding the net to include more people all the time, while the federal debt and deficit continue to grow. A large number of people continue to extract the benefits year after year after year simply because they can.
But what this does over time is that it renders upon the beneficiaries a sense of entitlement – an expectation that the government is going to support them no matter what. And this expectation takes form more out of habit, repetition and prior experience, rather than a genuine appreciation of one’s own situation. The longer these schemes run, the less the people are prone to be motivated to achieve something by themselves. Add high unemployment rate to this, and you have a society feeding off of government grants and subsidies.
And here is where comes in the idea of the one way road of entitlement. You see, welfare schemes can only be introduced or expanded. They can never be stopped, paused or downgraded. Firstly, it is going to be an extremely unpopular decision as all the beneficiaries treat those tax breaks or welfare schemes as a true entitlement. (They have simply been GETTING IT for so long). Secondly, as pointed out earlier, these people, who are now simply used to the idea of these handouts and feel that they are entitled to it, can never be convinced that handouts are not the way forward. And finally, within the workings of a democratic government, there is always going to be a party which will sing the rhetoric of populism and appeasement for votes, if the benefits are indeed stopped.
Put all these three together and the fact that every party in power wants to remain in power, and you will find that everyone is staring down the one way road of entitlement and deficit.
The current President’s idea is to continue this drive of government dependency of the middle class with tax breaks and welfare scheme expansions. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, recognizes the one way nature of the road and clearly intends to take a deviation. And within this context, his comments about “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives” ring true. For, you see, a large number of people now view these schemes as an entitlement that cannot be reversed. And there really is nothing anybody can tell them that will help them understand otherwise.
Now, the idea is to make sure that Obama does not get the chance to continue on that same road and allow more people to walk it. The solution is to create jobs for people to build their own lives upon – not to keep giving handouts to the vast majority and increase their dependence on the government. I am actually glad Mitt Romney made those comments (albeit not in an ‘elegant’ manner) that have now created a furor everywhere. It had to be said. Too bad he did not say it in one of his campaign speeches. THAT would have been something!