The ironies just kept coming. On Monday, Sept. 17 – the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement that gave us the concept of the 99% vs the 1% (more than 146 protesters were arrested trying to block access to the New York Stock Exchange), Mother Jones magazine released two secretly recorded videos of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during a fundraiser among his 1% donor base, apparently sharing how he really feels about the nation’s economic divide. The first video has New York Times’ David Brooks calling Romney “Thurston Howell Romney” after the out-of-touch rich white man stuck on Gilligan’s Island. Romney said:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax….[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5-10% of people who are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon, in some cases, emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”
Later that night at a lucrative fundraiser in Costa Mesa, Romney held a hastily arranged news conference during which he took only three questions. “It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff,” he said about the “47%” video, then seeming to double down on its message of self-reliance. “It’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry — which is, look, the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them, and therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those who are in the middle.”
The nonpartisan and highly respected Tax Policy Center derived the 47 percent number – it is actually 46 percent, as of 2011 – and published an excellent analysis of it last summer.
It found that about half of the households that do not pay federal income tax do not pay it because they are simply too poor. The Tax Policy Center gives as an example a couple with two children earning less than $26,400 a year: The household would pay no federal income tax because its standard deduction and other exemptions would simply erase its liability.
The other half, the Tax Policy Center found, consists of households taking advantage of tax credits and other provisions, mostly support for senior citizens and low-income working families.
Put bluntly, these are not households shirking their tax liabilities. The pool consists mostly of the poor, of relatively low-income working families and of old people. The tax code is specifically designed to reduce the burden on them.
Indeed, the recession and its aftermath have left tens of millions of workers out of a job or underemployed, removing more households from payment of federal income taxes. Moreover, the Bush tax cuts – the signature Republican economic policy of the 2000s, which doubled the child tax credit, increased a number of other deductions and exemptions, and lowered marginal tax rates – erased millions of families’ federal income tax liabilities.
It is also worth noting that though tens of millions of families do not pay federal income taxes, there are virtually no families that do not pay any taxes – between payroll taxes, sales taxes, state and local taxes, and on and on.
But the second video – released before Romney spoke to an audience of 1,400 people at a meeting of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles – may ironically have a more devastating impact on the Latino voters he was seeking to court. Romney told his 1% donor base:
“My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico… and had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.”
“It’s not about being a Latino that would make Romney a better candidate,” Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio) said in a statement. “Latinos, and all Americans, look at the substance of a candidate’s proposals to determine who is the better candidate and who best represents the priorities of their community. That is why upon examining the policies willingly supported by Romney on the economy, health care, and immigration, Latinos overwhelmingly support President Obama.”
Latino Democrats – including openly gay California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez – concurred. He was among LA area local Latino officials who held a press conference outside the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event to remind the attendees of Romney’s positions on issues such as immigration.
“We’re here to underscore the reality that regardless of what Mitt Romney may choose to say in that room, the record is clear that the Romney-Ryan ticket is a clear pathway back to the failed policies that caused the worst financial crises in generations,” Perez told the LA Times. “The Romney-Ryan ticket reflects the wrong path for America and certainly the wrong path for the Latino community.”
But with the Mother Jones videos not having been publicized widely enough to prompt a response from the crowd, Romney basically stuck to his stump speech. “Candidate Obama said that one of his highest priorities would be to fix immigration in his first year in office. Despite his party having majorities in both houses of Congress, the president never even offered up a bill,” Romney said.
“I would have loved to hear a little more detail about how he plans to help American businesses, but I understand he had limited time,” Javier Palomarez, chief executive of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told The Times about Romney’s remarks.
To California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Treasurer Connie Perez, Romney’s push for self-reliance is about cutting the safety net for lower income people, for whom education is a way out. “As governor he slashed per-pupil funding for K-12 education by more than any governor in the nation and when asked about the cost of college, all he recommended was to ‘shop around,’” she told the Huffington Post.
The Obama campaign put out an “extreme makeover” video directed to Latinos and DREAMers in anticipation of Romney’s address to the Chamber.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, Mother Jones released another video during which Romney seems to spurn the idea of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.