In any presidential campaign, numbers will be flung, percentages will be used as weapons of war and the word "statistics" becomes permanently paired with the political modifier "misleading." When voters ask for substance, politicians will often offer them numbers. Numbers seem solid, real. Somewhere, Herman Cain is still repeating his once-popular 9-9-9 speech to some adoring group of right-wing diners on the rubber-chicken circuit, for a small honorarium plus expenses.
This is the context that helps me understand the suicidal impulse that compelled Mitt Romney, speaking to a much higher class of right-wing diners, to go on, at length, about the exact percentage of American voters that he's simply written off. The conventional wisdom is, it's not a gaffe if the politician says what he really means, and Mitt's voice on tape sounds genuine, candid, and not at all like the Mitt-Bot 3000 we are so used to hearing. It's jarring, really; all along, we've been looking for the real Mitt, and now, thanks to some left-wing secret agent with a video camera, we've got him.
And here's what he's doing, when we hear his real voice for the first time: he's dismissing almost half of the American electorate. Now, part of what he says on this infamous video is just plain truth, the kind of talk that political consultants bandy about when discussing strategy, useful for planning meetings sitting around a conference table. Cue the Powerpoint with the pie chart! If Mitt had the good sense to shut his piehole at that point, there'd be nothing to see, move along. But Mitt keeps talking on this video, well past the point he wants to make, and goes on the attack, not against Obama, but against those awful 47 percenters, you know the ones I'm talking about, the ones who depend on government because they have no sense of personal responsibility. The ones who don't pay taxes.
There's enough irony here for three TV movies and a reality series. Everyone's going to be talking about the elephant in the room: gazillionaire Mitt refuses to show us his own tax returns, because he's been shoveling cash into tax shelters probably since kindergarten. But wait, there's more than the obvious punditry arguments to be made, here. Looky-looky: Mitt's insulting part of his own base, the part that does not own multiple residences and Olympic horseflesh.
Here's some fun facts: there are lots of Republicans in retirement communities living on Social Security and dependent on Medicare, and they don't pay income taxes. Mitt has just told a bunch of elderly Republicans in Florida to shape up and stop freeloading.
More fun facts: Republicans depend on the votes of white Southern evangelicals. Thanks to anti-union legislation, a lot of those folks are working for the minimum wage. How many of them are paying income taxes?
The Obama campaign is now kicking itself for having spent millions in ads to tell voters that Mitt Romney's an uncaring gazillionaire who likes to fire people and send jobs to China. Had they only known, they could have simply waited for this video to come out.
The good news: it turns out Mitt Romney has a core after all. The bad news is, what that core contains -- disdain for anyone who cannot be completely self-sufficient. Let's run some numbers and find out what percentage of the electorate Romney's likely to keep.