Is there any better metaphor for contemporary conservatism than Mitt Romney complaining that he would have had a chance if only he had been born Mexican? Yesterday, Mother Jones swept back to relevance by releasing a series of surreptitious videos of the Republican nominee speaking at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, where he lamented that the 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income tax will vote for Barack Obama no matter what. “My job is is not to worry about those people,” Romney said. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” I mean, hell—if the wailing of their hungry children doesn’t…
It may have hurt his campaign. The videos were posted yesterday, and by last night Romney had already issued a tepid semi-apology. “Of course, I want to help all Americans,” he said. “All Americans have a bright and prosperous future.” This remark contrasts sharply with his “off-the-cuff” claim that half the country consists of victims who will never take personal responsibility for their lives, but you can’t go by what he says to the millionaires who finance his campaign. It’s his prepared public statements that reveal the real him.
It’s also worth noting that although Romney was not lying to those people per se, what he said did not coincide with the truth. His claim that 50% of college graduates cannot find jobs is inaccurate, as is his assertion that Obama promised to keep unemployment under 8%. And there’s this. The Atlantic’s handy map of states with the highest percentage of people paying no income tax conveniently doubles as a map of states that vote Republican. Fortunately, those are also states where people don’t watch the news.
So is this the death of the Romney campaign, as certain overzealous Bloomberg reporters have predicted? If Romney’s claims are correct, they shouldn’t affect much. The 47% of Americans likely to be offended by his insistence that they are neurasthenic freeloaders weren’t going to vote for him anyway, right? Josh Barro claims that the “really disastrous” part of the video is the “combination of contempt and pity that Romney shows for anyone who isn’t going to vote for him.” But alienating the people who are against you should not, in theory, change the horse race.
I personally disagree with Barro’s premise. I think the really disastrous parts of these videos are the ones that show Romney failing to realize how absurdly fortunate his own life has been. There’s the aforementioned moment when he says that “had [George Romney] been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.” There is his claim that “I’ve inherited nothing,” as if his prep school education and quote-unquote loans from his parents and family dinners in the damn governor’s mansion were the standard American experience. And there is his infuriating remark that “I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”
It’s not so much that Romney was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. These remarks suggest that he believes the game starts on third base, which explains his contempt for those entitled freeloaders languishing on first. He cannot imagine what it is like to work and not get by, to try to learn math in a bad school or to build a fortune from actual nothing, because he has never experienced it. He’s hardly even seen it. To Mitt Romney, being Mitt Romney is about as tough as it gets.
It is a too-common worldview—one that substitutes who you are for what you do. It explains why he considers his own political message hopelessly unappealing to half the electorate, and it also explains quotes like this:
My own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy.
There is a man who has succeeded his whole life by simply showing up. All he had to do was get born in America, and he became the richest man ever to run for president. Forty-seven percent of the United States must be entitled freeloaders, because it’s not that hard to succeed in this country. All you have to do is be Mitt Romney.