By now, anyone who follows politics has heard the “47 percent” gaffe of Mexican-American presidential candidate Willard M. Romney. Posted Monday afternoon by David Corn of Mother Jones, the story features Romney saying some shockingly stupid things. But one thing, one beautiful, shiny, crystalline phrase, so overwhelmed the stupid found elsewhere in the video that even Romney’s writing off of the Middle East peace process has gone relatively uncovered. The quote, in full, is as follows:
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.
Now, that does not mean you shouldn’t click on the link to Mother Jones, above, and read the whole story, because it’s really quite good. And you can tell it has had the ability to move the news cycle in a new direction simply by appreciating the fact that the story, as I stated was published less than 72 hours ago. Feels more like a week at least, doesn’t it? That’s how you can tell a story has dominated the news. And believe me, ace, the last three days have seemed more like three years to the nation’s first major Mexican-American presidential candidate. (Perhaps, having not written about Romney in a while, I should explain the Mexican-American joke. Romney’s father was born in Mexico, you see, which makes Romney Mexican-American, which is hilarious because a vocal minority of the Republican Party hates Mexicans.) Democrats, of course, were quick to eviscerate Romney over his remarks. Romney himself offered a halfhearted defense. Some Republicans distanced themselves from the presidential candidate as though he were some latter-day Todd Akin. (No pun intended with the “latter day.”) But some Republicans … ah, some Republicans saw this as a moment of greatness. The deep conservatives. The ones who have lived so long on Planet Swine that they have forgotten everything about life here on Earth. Republicans like Rush Limbaugh.
The day after the Mother Jones story came out, Limbaugh offered a full-throated defense of the 47 percent line on his radio show:
So here’s Romney at the Boca Raton fundraiser, and he happens to be telling these people a certain level of truth, a certain level of accuracy. I think there’s a bunch of people in that 47 percent that don’t want to be there. I think there’s a lot of that 47 percent, they’re there because of Obama. This is such a golden opportunity. This could be the opportunity for Romney and for that campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism. Start explaining liberty to people and what it means, and explain that they don’t have to be in that 47 percent. There’s no reason for them, for everybody, to essentially have given up on their future in this country. There’s no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism and to explain to people.
Quick point: The fundraiser was indeed in Boca Raton, which just goes to prove, once again, my cardinal rule of American journalism — if a weird story dominates the news media, it will, invariably, eventually have a connection to Florida. There are no exceptions. But anyway, I think Limbaugh’s got the right idea here. I want a national debate over whether this 47 percent of the country are lazy slugs or whether they, well, look a lot like you and me. Because that 47 percent includes a lot of groups that don’t exactly match the racist stereotype many conservatives have of the welfare queen with 10 kids and a Cadillac in the driveway. Mother Jones provided a handy list of charts breaking down this 47 percent of the population. But it’s worth mentioning a few categories. About a fifth of that 47 percent are senior citizens whose main source of income is Social Security. Another three-fifths are working people making less than $20,000 per year. These people may not pay income taxes, but they still pay state and sales taxes, as well as federal payroll taxes. All told, these people pay an average of about 13 percent of their incomes in taxes. It’s worth noting here, perhaps, that this is about the same percentage that Romney paid in federal income taxes last year, which is, of course, the only year we have complete information about because the man still won’t release a decade’s worth of tax returns.
And what about that other fifth of the 47 percent? Well, some of them actually don’t look anything like you. About 3,000 people made more than $2 million last year and, through a neat series of tax-accounting tricks, paid no income tax. Another 24,000 made more than half a million and paid no income taxes. Other significant categories in the 47 percent: student financial aid and military combat pay, neither of which is taxable.
So, Rush Limbaugh, I completely agree with you. Let’s have this conversation. You can talk about how these 47 percent of Americans are leeches on the rest of us, but hey, it doesn’t have to be that way! And I can talk about how you just called hard-working poor people, the elderly, combat troops, and college students a bunch of god-damned leeches.