Mitt Romney got some unwanted attention early this year when he flatly stated, "I'm not concerned about the very poor." When challenged on this remark he assured Americans that the safety net for the very poor was a given, safe from any budget and tax code tinkering in Washington. This was a sinister explanation since Romney's tax and spending plan -- or as much of it as can be deciphered -- calls for further tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of social services that he claimed were safe.
Now, we see that it's not just the "very poor" who don't merit Romney's "concern." At the now-infamous $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Florida, Romney wrote off the concerns of the 47 percent of Americans who don't owe federal income taxes, saying that half of Americans are "dependent on government," "believe that they are the victims," and have the gall to "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
That 47 percent includes families and individuals with low incomes -- about 23 percent of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center. It also includes those for whom tax credits for children and working families have eliminated tax burdens -- about 7 percent. It also includes seniors who have left the workforce -- about 10 percent. Over half of the 47 percent pay federal payroll taxes. All are subject to state and local taxes, many of which, like sales taxes, are more regressive than federal taxes. (And if we ever see more Romney tax returns, we may find some years when the Romney's were in that entitled 47 percent.)
As conservative writer Reihan Salam points out in the National Review, policies like the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit -- responsible for much of this tax relief for working families -- were conservative ideas meant to reduce the "dependency" that Romney so reviles, by "encourag[ing] people get on the first rungs of the jobs ladder, and to become less dependent over time."
Romney was telling the well-heeled guests at this fundraising dinner that these people -- middle-class parents, low-income workers, the unemployed, the elderly -- aren't interested in working hard despite the fact that most of them report to the IRS each year that they work quite a lot. This isn't just tin-eared politics. Like Romney's comments on the "very poor," it represents a profound misunderstanding of how Americans' lives work and how his policies would affect those lives.
But even talking about the "47 percent versus the 53 percent" belies the fact that nobody in America is free from at least some government "dependency." We all rely on roads, hospitals, schools, firefighters, police officers, and our military -- even Mitt Romney and his $50,000-a-plate friends. Romney himself has relied on the government's safety net for businesses, securing a federal bailout for Bain & Company. Nobody succeeds without some help from a stable, functional government. That's what President Obama was saying when his "you didn't build that" comments were taken out of context.
Romney was clearly telling his funders a fantasy story that they love to hear. But that story is a lie, and we shouldn't accept it from someone who could become a president representing 100 percent of the American people.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MBKeegan