Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mitt Romney and the New Southern Strategy

Remember when Romney bragged after his NAACP speech,
By the way, I had the privilege of speaking today at the NAACP convention in Houston and I gave them the same speech I am giving you. I don't give different speeches to different audiences alright. I gave them the same speech.
We knew even then that Romney wsn't telling the truth - you don't have to work so hard to stay "off the record" at every single private fund raising events and meeting if you're saying the same thing in every venue.

I'm reminded of Santorum's comments, his expression that he didn't want to make the lives of bleah people better by giving them "somebody else's money". We know who the "bleah" people are, even if we're pretending that Santorum didn't catch himself half-way through a moment of honesty.

When Romney rails against people who don't pay federal income tax, he's not actually speaking about people who don't pay federal income tax. That's simply the latest shorthand for "bleah people" - the undeserving poor. He's taking advantage of the fact that most people don't differentiate between FICA and income tax, or even between federal income tax and state and local taxes, and that a lot of retirees, disabled workers, disabled veterans, people who collect unemployment, and similar groups of people who pay no federal income tax don't see themselves as falling into that category. They, unlike the undeserving poor, earned their benefits. (Never mind that Romney would put most or all of those benefits on the chopping block for reduction or elimination.)

If you look at the 47% you'll find a lot of Republican voters, and Romney knows that. You'll even find irrational voters - an acquaintance of my wife's supports her family through her husband's SSI (he lacks enough work credits for SSD, she has never worked), Medicare, food stamps, housing subsidies and the like, but is very concerned that Obama is going to take away her benefits and give them to somebody undeserving, presumably a "bleah person", and always votes Republican. Perhaps if people within the 47% had a better sense of who they are, the Republicans would have to change the code. But up to now it has worked, with Republican voters in that 47% "knowing" that the rhetoric is about somebody else.

The problem for Romney is less that he's using the code, and more that he refuses to admit that he was speaking in code. As long as he doubles down on the, "Yes, I really meant that my job as President would not involve worrying about anybody who doesn't pay federal income tax," he'll subject himself to questions about the classes of Republican voters who fall into that class. And if he starts qualifying his statement along the lines of, "Retirees who depend on Social Security? Disabled veterans? People who have worked their whole lives but can't find a job? I actually do care about them," sooner or later he'll be talking about a number far less than 47%. And that could put a very different complexion on things.

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