COLUMN: “Inelegantly stated” —Two ways to make a political gaffe
Mitt Romney’s recently published remarks on “the 47 percent” have grabbed just as much air time and page space as Obama’s unfortunate “guns and religion” quote from his 2008 campaign. The gaffe comes at an unfortunate time for Romney, whose poll numbers have recently been lackluster in several key states.
For those unfamiliar with Romney’s misstep, the former Massachusetts governor was caught on film implying that welfare has created a sense of victimhood among Americans that permanently places some voters (about 47 percent, to be exact) out of his platform’s reach. His comments culminated in, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Ouch. If you’re on welfare, it’s doubtful this is what you were looking to hear.
And yet, as laudable as such programs are, Romney’s remarks go to the heart of a very valid argument criticizing welfare reform: growing entitlement weighs heavily upon a recently weaker American economy. It’s perfectly fair to posit that welfare has encouraged self-victimization.
But the problem here isn’t such an argument — in fact, that’s nothing new. It’s the sense of contempt that Romney seems to have for nearly half of all eligible taxpayers, and this is what’s going to hurt him in the long run.
Compare this to Obama’s “guns and religion” quote. After being asked why his platform wasn’t as well received in small-town American, Obama posited that his policies weren’t being received well because a lack of change for the better had led to anti-government cynicism.
The current president said, “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Once again, the argument is perfectly believable. And, once again, the problem is the sense of contempt connoted by the remarks.
The chief difference, though, is that Obama’s are arguably more sympathetic—he does not lambast them for laziness or self-pity, but demonstrates an understanding of the social dynamics working in small-town America. This is perhaps the reason why we can more easily look past the comment and see the argument at work, and why we’re not still given to think of Obama as an elitist.
Romney, however, has some catching up to do — his remarks will be a hard PR sale to anyone receiving substantial government benefits. “Romney as Darth Vader” has been a favorite theme of liberal critics throughout the campaign, and his recently published comments aren’t going to make fighting back any easier.
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