11/16/2012 08:12 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

Willard's Last Gaffe?

Of all the political misfits who've run for president in the sixty-odd years since I've been following politics, Willard M. Romney is surely among the dumbest. First, he wrongly writes off almost half the voters -- 47 percent -- as a bunch of irresponsible moochers, explaining that, if elected: "[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

When that statement makes him look like an idiot and a loser, he says he really didn't mean it; his excuse is "now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right." And after the election, he proves he did mean it, by telling his big donors that President Obama beat him by offering bribes, or as he called them, "gifts," to such unworthy 47 percenters as blacks, Latinos and young people, in the form of health insurance, contraceptives, "amnesty" for children of illegals, easier college loans and other goodies.

Some of the GOP's rising stars fell all over themselves to gain distance from Romney's "gifts." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared: "I absolutely reject that notion, that description," adding: "We need to stop being a dumb party, and that means more than stop making dumb comments." Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker chimed in that the GOP isn't "just for people who are currently not dependent on the government... It's for all Americans." Politico's star reporter, Mike Allen, was told by numerous other Republicans that his comments "convinced them that Romney just doesn't get it, and that '47 percent' was no slip of the tongue."

More than anything, Romney's latest words call into question what he thinks government is all about in a democratic society. At least as I understand it, government -- federal, state and local -- is all about providing services to people, from police, fire, education and highways to defense, clean air, water and food, rough justice and some kind of social safety net.

Another blogger, John Avalon, has even managed to dig up a quotation from the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, the Irish-British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, to support that view. "Government," Burke wrote way back in 1790, "is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom." But to Romney, despite his "severe conservatism" Burke's "wants" become no more than "gifts" for the undeserving, making them dependent upon government, which to Republicans is one terrible thing. But, as James Surowiecki pointed out last month in The New Yorker:

"Romney has had strikingly little to say about another prominent group that's 'dependent upon government': the many American companies whose profits rely, in one form or another, on government assistance.

From the days of high tariffs and giant land grants to the railroads, business and government have always been tightly intertwined in this country. But, in recent decades, what you could call the corporate welfare state has become bigger."

What are not "gifts" to Romney are corporate subsidies, lower taxes for the rich and companies and tariff protections like the one that results in Americans paying twice the world price for sugar. Or windfall profits worth billions for the oil and mining industries for low-price leasing of federal lands; or government giveaways of other billions in spectrum to television stations; or $15 billion in grants, price supports and other subsidies to farmers and agribusinesses; or billions more to the ethanol industry; or hundreds of billions in patent protections to the drug and still other industries. Not to mention tens of billions of dollars a year in tax breaks to business from all levels of government.

Does Romney really think that the Wall Street billionaires and multimillionaires, Pentagon contractors, chambers of commerce and other big and small businesspeople who so lavishly supported him and other politicians paid all that money out of love and admiration for him and the rest? Or did they more likely do so out of the naked self-interest for the "gifts" spelled out above?

And if it's OK for business to pursue its self-interests through government, why is it such a terrible sin for ordinary citizens to do so? Why is dependence on government just fine for corporations but dirty words for common people? That is a question Romney, and today's Republicans generally, can't answer. It's what makes him, and them, unfit to govern this country.

Haley Barbour, the former Republican governor of Mississippi, has the best idea of what the GOP needs. "[W]e've got to give our political organizational activity a very serious proctology exam," Barbour said. A proctology exam, followed by treatment, is sorely needed by a party with too many members who can only politely be described as rear-enders.

To use the word that more accurately describes those Republicans would be decidedly impolite.