By Michael I. Niman
If we credit the Occupy movement for casting two numbers into our political lexicon, 99 percent and onee percent, we’ve also got to credit Mitt Romney and the Republican Party for adding another number: 47 percent. It’s been three weeks since Mother Jones magazine validated and posted the now infamous covert recording of an uncharacteristically candid and honest Willard Mitt Romney, who, speaking with the authority of an occult numerologist, gave us the magic number 47.
Unless you’ve been in solitary confinement on an off-the-grid penal island, you’re probably familiar with Romney’s speech to a private gathering of campaign contributors, where he wrote off 47 percent of the US population as being hopelessly committed to President Barack Obama. The number represents the percentage of the population that does not pay income taxes. This statement has lit the punditocracy on fire across the political spectrum. Republican chatter-heads bemoan the Mittster’s political blunder, citing simple mathematics. It’s dumb to write off, and more importantly piss off, 47 percent of the population if your main goal in life is to get 51 percent of that population to like you, or at least stomach you for as long as it takes to cast a presidential ballot.
More cerebral pundits, over the past few weeks, have tackled a more complex question, asking specifically, who these people are—the 47 percent that Romney argues will not “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” It turns out that the folks who technically earn too little to pay taxes are a rather eclectic bunch. They include disabled veterans, low-income retirees, the working poor, full-time students, and wealthy investors whose income is not subject to payroll tax, to name a few. Almost all of these folks, however, pay some form of tax, including sales tax, Social Security and Medicare withholding, capital gains tax, property tax, and so on. Most of them take personal responsibility for their lives. Many of them are Republicans.
Romney’s attack was based on a level of ignorance that we seldom see in presidential politics—at least that we seldom saw prior to this year’s Republican primary and the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential selection. The pundits agree this was a dumb thing to voice, not so much in the saying, but in the getting caught. For many politicians, the core lesson here is to simply frisk your guests better.
Democratic-leaning pundits, or those who finally reached their tolerance for an ever increasingly repugnant Willard Romney, went a few steps further. They attacked Romney for writing off what he apparently thought were just poor, weak, or needy people, telling his funders, “My job is not to worry about those people.” A presidential candidate brazenly making such a vile comment is certainly newsworthy. And it demands condemnation, much of which we’ve seen over the past weeks, complete with a good dose of punishment in the polls. But there’s more to this story.
Most of the media accounts of Romney’s 47 Percent speech cite his argument that there is 47 percent of the population “who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them,” and who Romney is writing off, both as potential voters and as human beings about whom he should care. We’re mostly familiar with this quote. And that’s where the story and the quote usually ended. Romney is either an idiot or he admits that he’ll never be the president representing all of America, which his campaign now addresses with an Occupy-inspired “100 percent” meme.
What few pundits paid much attention to was the remainder of Romney’s sentence attacking the so-called 47 percent, saying they “believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Most editors chose to shorten the sentence, ignoring Willard Romney’s outrage that people, the 47 percent or anyone else, would believe that they are entitled, as in having a right, to healthcare, food, and housing. Think about the concept: a right to healthcare, food, and housing. We’re not talking the McMansions, foodie epicurism, or elite health retreats that Romney’s donors have come to expect as class entitlements. No. This was questioning a more basic assumption, asking where people come off thinking they have a right to healthcare, a place to live, and food to eat.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was drafted by a committee headed by the United States and ratified in 1948, clearly states, in Article 25:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
The “entitlement” that Romney decried is not any sort of radical notion or fringe idea. It’s a universally acknowledged basic human right. Believing in and supporting such basic human rights is what defines our humanity, not as Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Greens, or whatever, but as part of the human family. And in brazenly mocking these basic human rights, Willard Mitt Romney sociopathically opted out of his own humanity. Where’s our outrage?
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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