We’ve probably all heard about the video of Mitt Romney saying (within context), that he feels 47 percent of the electorate are freeloaders who feel “entitled,” and that his “job is not to worry about those people. [I’ll] never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
He believes that 47 percent will vote for Obama “no matter what.”
Liberals hear this and become enraged with glee (if there is such a thing). And I admit, at first, I did, too.
We can’t believe Romney would be so stupid and so obviously mistaken as to label nearly half the country as “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.” We see it as a glaring campaign mistake and a death nail for Romney.
It’s not. Not on a strategic level. And you have to step back and think like a generic, conservative Republican for a minute to both find your way to the truth of this moment, and to understand the other side.
Mitt Romney could not have been more accidentally eloquent in stating the true position of the new, Libertarian-infused GOP: “If you’re not rich, it’s your own fault. You deserve to be poor, and I don’t need to help you. Your needs should not get in the way of my freedom.”
Fundamentally speaking, there is no grey area for many conservative thinkers. It is ingrained in their biology, and sustained by their environment: Everything is black and white, and becoming more so:
If you’re not happy with union bargaining postures, it’s “destroy all unions.” Don’t like Obamacare? “Repeal it entirely.” Don’t like the President’s proposals or Democrat ideas? “Filibuster.” Abortion? “None after fertilization.” And no taxes: never, ever, ever!
Oh, and: “if you got laid off and need food stamps, it was your fault for not being more indispensable to your profession. Quit being a parasite.”
There is no compromise. No sympathy. You're either successfully rich, or you're "looking for a handout."
It’s the old t-shirt: Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Liberals should not be shocked by this. Only their side perceives this as a selfish, indecent perspective. If you listen closely, the New Right has been whispering this for years: the rich are deservedly infallible, and then there’s everyone else.
Romney just used more vivid grammar in describing “those people.”
Another thing I think liberals are mistaken about is when they see Mitt Romney flip-flop, and think that this is supposed to mean something about his character that will change his voters’ minds.
Listen: Mitt Romney doesn’t care what you think about his character. Mitt Romney is a businessman. Business, at his level, is about competition and winning. Character is secondary to winning. Truth is secondary to winning. And in the words of “Glengarry Glenn Ross”: Always—always—be closing.
Mitt Romney will be whoever he needs to be, in front of whoever his audience may be; because if they leave that room sold on him, he believes they will do what he needs them to do. It doesn’t matter to him if they hear that he told someone else, something else. He aligned himself with their beliefs in the now.
Once you’ve done that to a die-hard conservative, facts are irrelevant. You’ve made an emotional connection. Truth and facts are for hippies. What else explains why a growing number of conservatives don’t believe in the mountains of evidence for evolution and climate change? They don’t want it to be true, so it is simply not true.
Liberals need to quit standing idly by and assuming they’re going to come around and face facts.
Finally, and most succinctly, liberals need to realize that there’s a percentage like the 47% on the GOP side which accounts for all of this.
Romney didn’t “write off half of America.” He played to HIS HALF. And liberals need to start understanding that, in an election, a large chunk of the people who side with Mitt Romney would side with him, no matter what he says or does. Period.
Romney can lie. He can enjoy firing people. He can believe that corporations are people, hide his money in the Caymans, and he can use dogs as roof ornaments. These are not “gaffes” or campaign mistakes. He can do no wrong for his base. These things liberals are shocked by-- which they believe no one could possibly hear and vote for-- are reasons many people find Mitt Romney endearing. No amount of policy or campaign “incompetence” can hurt the Romney campaign, because so much of the Right only cares that he is not Barack Obama.
But let’s take a journey of hypothetical extremes.
Let’s ask ourselves: What would actually cause Mitt Romney’s percentage to drop dramatically? What would actually be “going too far”?
Let’s say he was to drop an N-bomb during the debates, directed at Obama.
Do I expect him to do that? No. Is he a racist? I don’t see any evidence of that. But let’s say he did; absolutely and purely hypothetically. If he committed that absolutely horrifying and disgusting sin, unparalleled in political history, what percentage would Mitt Romney keep?
The answer to that question, assuming it’s anything over zero, is Mitt Romney’s 47%. And I know, and you know, that answer is not zero. It’s not even close.
Flip that scenario if you like. Put similar words in Obama’s mouth (if there are any). What’s his entrenched demographic of voters who would abandon human decency and support him anyway?
For either side, what would really be an unforgivable sin?
I think that we have become so polarized in this country that no political sin—no gaffe, no lie, no contrary facts, and no amount of selfishness or indecency— could ever cause a large chunk of your voting bloc to defect to the other side. And the number of people in the middle, who keep open mind in search of facts, truth, and character, is shrinking.
It’s becoming an unsolvable problem in our country.
And on that much, and on that over-arching point, Mr. Romney was correct.
You can follow/yell at Patrick on twitter: @PatrickInPublic