Quote, er Insult, of the Day

September 18, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The quote of the day was from a day back in May but just leaked yesterday – Mitt Romney speaking to people who had ponied up $50,000 for dinner.  Speaking about the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax, Romney said that they are people 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. . . . . And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Random thoughts:

1.  Half of the 47% (closer to 46%, but who’s counting) pay no taxes because their income is so low that standard deductions wipe out any income tax liability.  The other half, who have higher incomes, pay no taxes because of “tax expenditures” – special deductions written into the tax code.  Of those people, most are accounted for by elderly tax benefits, credits for children, or credits for the working poor (Earned Income Tax Credit).

The Tax Policy Center (here) provides this pie chart of the people Romney says do not take personal responsibility or care for their own lives.

(Click on the pie for a larger view.)

2.  Romney’s complaint is that because these people pay no income tax, he can’t win their votes by promising to cut their income taxes.  The problem is not that their taxes are too low but that as far as cutting their taxes goes, someone else got there first. 
    And who were those dastards who ruined it for Romney?  Sneaky liberals like Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon (the EITC, signed by Ford, was an outgrowth of Nixon’s idea for a Negative Income Tax) and the big tax cutters Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. 

3.  Not long ago there was speculation that for several years in the recent past, Romney himself was among the 47%.  Romney has denied this, and although he has the evidence to back up what he says,  he refuses to provide that evidence.  In any case, of people making more than $200,000 last year,  72,000 paid no income tax.  Of those, 18,000 made a half million or more.

4.  Romney is wrong about voting.  Seniors favor Romney by 8-10 points. And about one-third of the lowest income group (the white males mostly) will vote for Romney.  I doubt that Romney’s insulting them will change their minds.

The Atlantic (here) posted this map showing the non-paying tax filers.  The ten states with the highest percent of non-payers are red, the lowest blue.
The low-income voters in those Southern states favor the Democrats.  No wonder Republican-controlled governments in so many of those red states are passing laws to keep poor people from voting.

(Note:  the percentages are low – the highest state, Mississippi, has only 49% not paying any tax – because the figures are based on those who filed tax returns. Millions more poor people did not bother to file.  Including them would raise the percentage of income tax non-payers.)

5.  Is it possible these insults will help Romney?  What if it’s like advertising, and people make their choices on the basis of fantasies of who or where they want to be rather than where they actually are now?  If Romney can convince people that Obama is for losers (working drudges and moochers) and Romney is for winners (independent and successful entrepreneurs), he should pick up the votes of wage-and-salary voters who dream of starting their own businesses. 

6.  At the dinner for his wealthy donors, Romney was confirming their view of Obama voters.  The picture was a largely inaccurate stereotype, but it was what the $50,000 crowd already thought and wanted to hear more of.  As others (Ross Douthat at the Times for example) have pointed out, Obama and the Democrats have done the same thing.


andrew said...

Even that 47% number is problematic because it's actually 47% of "tax units." So, it includes a mixture single filings and married joint filings. It's hard to say for certain what percentage of voting-eligible individuals pays income tax.

Anchard said...


Nice summary. I think your points 4 and 5 are closely related – the Thomas Frank “What’s the Matter with Kansas” voters have been thoroughly indoctrinated to see everyone else as the moochers, regardless of what benefits they (or their city, or state) receive from other taxpayers. If anything, I think it’s worse than being like advertising –it’s tribal affiliation and resentment all the way down. I’m reminded of a conversation I had last night in Zucotti with a young woman who described an inherently American mindset among those who are struggling economically that they are not *really* poor, but are just pending entrepreneurs who are temporarily down on their luck (she might have been citing a study, but it’s out of my bailiwick and I can’t find a link). It’s not such a big jump from there to the rampant cognitive dissonance you describe.

And for a chuckle, it’s hard to beat the Onion’s take on the whole mess: