Romney in Costa Mesa,California. (AFP)
Washington, Sept. 18: Barack Obama may have hit the jackpot in his re-election campaign with the release of a secretly taped video of his Republican rival Mitt Romney telling his super-wealthy donors that Americans who do not earn enough to pay income tax are like parasites sucking life out of the government.
Obama’s challenger’s highly disparaging comments about nearly half of American society, out in the open only 49 days before the presidential election, has been serious enough for The Washington Post to describe the revelations as “Mitt Romney’s darkest hour”.
Romney himself recognised the outing of the video as a potentially mortal blow to his fight for the White House that within hours after it was aired he called a news conference well past 10 last night in California with no more than few moment’s notice to reporters even though it was 1 am today in Washington and New York where the news cycle had already elapsed.
The Republican did not dispute the authenticity of the secret video, but rationalised his comments that what he said was “not elegantly stated”. The video was recorded on May 17 at a fundraiser at the home of a private equity fund manager in Florida, Marc Leder, at which attendees paid $ 50,000 per head to Romney’s poll coffers.
There, the Republican candidate said: “There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right, there are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, 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. That is an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.
“And they will vote for this President no matter what… These are people who pay no income tax.”
There was worse to follow when Romney said his job “is not to worry about those people. I will never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
A liberal magazine, Mother Jones, which obtained the video and posted it on its website yesterday, put the comments into the context of the current electoral campaign, the way many Americans are apt to read them.
“Here was Romney raw and unplugged, sort of unscripted. With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don’t contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative.”
Mother Jones further said: “Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney.”
Fact-checkers who scrutinise every word of what candidates utter during election time were quick to point out quoting statistics from a non-partisan organisation, the Tax Policy Center, that although 46.4 per cent of Americans do not earn enough to pay income tax, nearly 75 per cent of all Americans do pay for Social Security and Medicare in the form of direct deductions from their salaries.
Such deductions are called payroll tax and employers make matching contributions. So Romney’s notion that these people are akin to parasites is certain to be resented by the majority of Americans who cough up money for their future benefits in retirement.
Liberals were quick to point out that many Americans do not pay income tax only on account of liberal tax exemptions consistently advocated by Republicans in the White House and in the US Congress.
Romney’s immediate worry is that with the airing of his comments, focus is likely to revert to his Achilles’ Heel: his advocacy of tax cuts for the wealthy and an unwillingness to release his own tax returns over an extended period when he made a fortune as a venture capitalist and donated huge amounts to his Mormon church.
According to accounts in the New York media, James Carter IV, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, helped unearth the video which was recorded without permission at the closed door fundraiser. Carter confirmed his role in exposing it, according to New York Magazine.
One portion of the video is scornful about Hispanics, which is bound to energise their community into greater support for Obama. Romney muses that “my dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company…But he was born in Mexico, and, uh, had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I would have a better shot at winning this” election.
Romney admitted that Republicans “are having a much harder time with Hispanic voters, and if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting bloc has in the past, why, we are in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation”.
Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina sent out a mass mail shortly after the video was outed in which he said: “The man who spoke these words — who demonstrates such disgust and disdain for half of our fellow Americans — is the other side’s choice for President of the United States. He wants to lead our country. If we don’t come through for President Obama right now, this will be the guy making big decisions that affect us and our families every single day.”