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On the 47 Percent, Romney's Actions Speak Louder Than His Words

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Mitt Romney is a serial liar. This has been the refrain of his opponents since his failed Senate campaign in 1994, when Ted Kennedy characterized Romney's position on abortion as "not pro-choice but multiple choice." This dishonesty apparently stops when Mitt Romney says offensive and tasteless remarks. Suddenly he morphs into an incredibly honest man who reveals his deepest thoughts to a group of donors he barely knows. Speaking at a $50,000 per person fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida, Romney told donors: "My job is not to worry about [the 47 percent of people who don't pay income taxes.] I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." This has been accepted as the gospel truth of what Mitt Romney really thinks about lower-income Americans, even though it flies in the face of his record as Governor of Massachusetts.

There is no real reason to think that Romney's comments about the 47 percent were any more sincere than the remarks he gives to evangelical conservatives, Tea Partiers, libertarians, or any other groups of people whose support he wishes to win. When Mitt Romney went to the Boca Raton fundraiser, he had one goal: make the attendees feel like they got their $50,000 worth and make them like Mitt Romney enough to give even more money.

It's true that Mitt Romney has known Marc Leder, the fundraiser's host, since 1995 and was an early investor in Leder's private equity fund, but their relationship has never extended beyond business. Most of the guests at Boca Raton were even less well-known to Romney than Leder; some were total strangers.

Trying to get people to donate large amounts of money is a situation that encourages pandering, not candor. This fundraiser was essentially an upscale Tea Party meeting, more knowledgeable, certainly better tailored, but still staunchly conservative. One of the audience members even yelled out the Tea Party slogan "Keep the Change" when Romney mentioned Obama's 2008 campaign.

When I asked Theda Skocpol, author of The Tea Party and The Remaking of Republican Conservatism, about Romney's remarks, she said: "I didn't think Romney was a Teapartier, but he's speaking their language." Romney, for whom, as George Will once said, "conservatism is a second language," has adopted more and more conservative shibboleths throughout his campaign as he tries to appeal to the activist wing of his party.

One of these shibboleths is the idea that a vast swath of the public votes reflexively Democrat in order to keep getting handouts from the government. During the Boca Raton fundraiser, Mitt Romney worked that language into his remarks. At other times, Romney and his campaign have invoked other conservative tropes like returning to the gold standard or moving America's Israeli embassy to Jerusalem to signal support for a fully Israel-controlled Jerusalem. In Boca Raton, Romney referred to Tel Aviv as the "financial capital, the industrial capital, the center of Israel," leaving Jerusalem out altogether. Why no mentions of Jerusalem? Because it wouldn't have been a guaranteed applause line in this audience of businessmen, who rightly fear the economic turmoil caused by conflict in the Middle East. Comments about the freeloading 47 percent refusing to take personal responsibility for their lives was just what Romney thought these donors wanted to hear -- so that's what they were told. It is no sinister revelation about Mitt Romney, just politics as usual.

Don't judge Mitt Romney by his words in Florida. Instead, judge his actions as Governor of Massachusetts. Governing is where you can see what a politician really believes, because then they are forced to make decisions between competing interest groups and competing priorities. Yes, personal ambition and political calculations will play into those decisions, but unlike the words of a speech, the actions of government have serious consequences and visible results. As Governor, Romney closed $128 million worth of corporate tax loopholes as part of his plan to fix Massachusetts's budget deficit. His major legislative achievement as Governor was creating a universal health care program that gave state-funded health care to residents who were certainly among the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes. This health care was paid for in part by a surcharge on employers who didn't provide health insurance. For obvious reasons, Romneycare is never mentioned in Mitt's speeches, but it provides the clearest proof of Mitt's actual feelings about the 47 percent.

Governor Romney's results speak clearly, so the next time Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, or any of the other usual suspects shows the Boca Raton video and says Mitt Romney is a plutocratic Ayn Rand devotee who cannot wait to get into the White House so he can bring back debtors prison and the workhouse, think about Governor Romney and his record, not Boca Raton Romney and his empty words.

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