Published for www.nationalreview.com/corner, September 18, 2012
In terms of shaping the outcome of this election or changing the dynamics of the horserace, I suspect that the effects of Mitt Romney’s recently publicized comments from a fundraiser in May will be negligible. But they do reveal some interesting things about the state of our politics.
I basically agree with the two lines of criticism made about Romney’s remarks here and elsewhere today. First, the remarks represented a misunderstanding of the three subjects to which they seemed to refer: the nearly even division of the electorate and relative dearth of persuadable voters, the relationship between government transfers and dependency, and the nature of dependency. The 47 percent of voters that Obama can basically count on are not all recipients of government benefits; recipients of government benefits are not all dependent on public support; and people who are dependent on public support are not all uninterested in taking control of their lives. Some are, in each case, but generally not all that many, and the sum of those portions does not add up to Obama’s electoral floor, just as the sum of their opposites does not add up to Romney’s (roughly equivalent) political floor.
Second, it is a mistake (not just rhetorically but substantively) for anyone running for president to direct himself to part of the country at the expense of another part—especially if the parts involved are very large. This is of course a mistake that both candidates are making, and it has to do with why neither of them is winning this election, though one of them will eventually have to lose it. The Obama campaign has been far more guilty of this particular offense against good sense and civic comity than the Romney campaign.