Sometimes it seems it just couldn’t be happening, one disaster after another – what could go wrong does go wrong, and then something else does, and then something else goes wrong too. Somehow, quite improbably, it all just spirals out of control. This is the second week of the NFL season and in the other room there’s Monday Night Football whispering away at low volume on the television – Denver at Atlanta, and Denver’s Peyton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks who ever lived, is throwing interception after interception, and all the calls by the dazed replacement officials, sent in over some obscure labor dispute, are all wrong calls – what they think they see just didn’t happen – and each absurd call somehow goes against Denver, never Atlanta. And then Denver fumbles the ball away and so on and so forth. It’s a nightmare, unless you’re an Atlanta fan, and it’s too painful to watch. Or it’s like a train wreck – you just can’t turn your eyes away. But of course you can. It’s just a football game – giant wealthy mutants on steroids slamming into each other, repeatedly, with sexy beer commercials. It means nothing in the great scheme of things, or even in and of itself. It simply passes the time.
Other things matter more – we’re about to elect an new president, or keep the one we already have around for another four years, and that can be a matter of life and death. A president can lead us to war – the idea Congress has any say in that disappeared with the War Powers Resolution back in the early seventies, after Lyndon Johnson ginned up an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that probably didn’t happen into a massive war that left fifty thousand or so Americans quite dead. Since that Vietnam business Congress has had no inclination to be the ones who commit us to war, or keep us out of one either. They just talk, seriously. And as for ordinary life and death – who gets healthcare or food stamps or unemployment support or Medicaid for those Alzheimer’s years in the nursing home – there the president sets policy and Congress makes its usual sounds and agrees, or sometimes, but very rarely, doesn’t agree. This is all a big deal. Who we elect as president matters far more than who wins a football game – even if sometimes a parallel develops. It’s a presidential race after all – a contest. Candidates compete and the media treats the whole business as a kind of sport, or at least uses sports metaphors. So and so, caught in a tight spot, punted, or fumbled, or dropped the ball. Baseball metaphors work too, when a candidate hits one out of the park, or goes down swinging. It’s a conceptual framework people seem to find useful, even if it trivializes matters.
Given that, Denver’s Peyton Manning is in the middle of having a very bad Monday night, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and so is Mitt Romney. No one expected either to happen, but sometimes things just spiral out of control – and in Romney’s case a good or at least reasonable Monday was turned into a total disaster by something that came entirely out of left field – that throw that cuts you off at the plate, to belabor the sports metaphor. Sometimes you don’t expect to get thrown out as you’re about to score that winning run.
The surprise throw from left field came from Mother Jones’ David Corn:
During a private fundraiser earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a small group of wealthy contributors what he truly thinks of all the voters who support President Barack Obama. He dismissed these Americans as freeloaders who pay no taxes, who don’t assume responsibility for their lives, and who think government should take care of them.
Corn has the tape, the full hour of Romney speaking, and has authenticated and verified it and all that journalistic stuff, so that Romney’s campaign is not even bothering to say it’s fake or somehow shows something else. They dispute none of it. It’s real enough, word for word, including Romney saying this how he could win in November:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent 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 that’s 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.
And he added this:
My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
He doesn’t give a shit about half the country, and sees no reason why he should, and there’s more:
At the dinner, Romney often stuck to familiar talking points. But there were moments when he went beyond the familiar campaign lines. Describing his family background, he quipped about his father, “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.” Contending that he is a self-made millionaire who earned his own fortune, Romney insisted, “I have inherited nothing.” He remarked, “There is a perception, ‘Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.’ Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”
It was an exercise in sneering contempt and smug entitlement, which may not play well in Peoria, and there’s also this:
To assure the donors that he and his campaign knew what they were doing, Romney boasted about the consultants he had retained, emphasizing that several had worked for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…
Don’t worry. Netanyahu will direct his foreign policy. Corn has it all, text and video, and says this is just the tip of the iceberg. He will be releasing more and more, adding this:
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. 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.
Josh Marshall asserts here that the “real Mitt Romney” has been revealed:
This is the caricature of Mitt Romney, who was born on third base (in Ann Richards memorable phrase), thinks he hit a triple and thinks the broad middle class who’ve relied on government for student loans or social security or anything else are losers who can’t get their act together and take responsibility for themselves. Only this tape says that caricature Mitt Romney is the real Mitt Romney. Big problem.
Yes, this seems like a big problem, and Jonathan Chait was quite surprised by what Romney said, even in private:
The revelations in this video come to me as a genuine shock. I have never hated Romney. I presumed his ideological makeover since he set out to run for president was largely phony, even if he was now committed to carry through with it, and to whatever extent he’d come to believe his own lines, he was oblivious or naïve about the damage he would inflict upon the poor, sick and vulnerable. It seems unavoidable now to conclude that Romney’s embrace of Paul Ryanism is born of actual contempt for the looters and moochers, a class war on behalf of his own class.
Mark Kleiman sees that too and is once again amazed by Obama’s luck:
I suppose it’s reasonable that O’Bama should have the Luck of the Irish. But his talent for finding self-destructing opponents – or perhaps for inducing otherwise sane opponents to self-destruct – is preternatural.
Bloomberg’s Josh Barro calls the game:
You can mark my prediction now: A secret recording from a closed-door Mitt Romney fundraiser, released today by David Corn at Mother Jones, has killed Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
On the tape, Romney explains that his electoral strategy involves writing off nearly half the country as unmovable Obama voters. As Romney explains, 47 percent of Americans “believe that they are victims.” He laments: “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
So what’s the upshot? “My job is not to worry about those people,” he says. He also notes, describing President Obama’s base, “These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.”
This is an utter disaster for Romney.
And there is reality, which Paul Krugman discusses here:
If you look at the facts, you learn that the great bulk of those who pay no income tax pay other taxes; also, many of the people in the no-income-tax category are (a) elderly (b) students or (c) having a bad year, having lost a job – that is, they’re people who have paid income taxes in the past and/or will pay income taxes in the future. The idea that half of Americans are just grifters is grotesque.
Ezra Klein in this item reminds us that the Republicans are the ones actually responsible for so few households paying income taxes:
Part of the reason so many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes is that Republicans have passed a series of very large tax cuts that wiped out the income-tax liability for many Americans. That’s why, when you look at graphs of the percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, you see huge jumps after Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. So whenever you hear that half of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes, remember: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush helped build that.
And Marc Ambinder considers the independent vote:
Forget the 47 percent. Independents may not be as economically liberal as the folks allegedly portrayed by Romney, but they are absolutely scared to death of telling their neighbor that they voted for someone with such intolerant views. That is, the skin and packaging of a candidate does indeed matter to independents. Indies have very trigger-sensitive ears to hints of condescension. These are the types of people who decry divisive partisanship.
Perhaps that’s true, or a stretch, but at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison decides to focus on Romney’s condescension:
More than anything else, what makes this video damaging is that it confirms what most Americans already suspect about Romney: he holds at least half the country in contempt, including many of the people that normally vote Republican. It isn’t just that Romney expresses contempt and pity for “anyone who isn’t going to vote for him” …. What makes this stand out as exceptionally arrogant is the fact that he clearly has contempt for many of the people who were likely to vote for him.
At the American Conservative there’s also Scott Galupo’s simple verdict:
Newsflash: Romney isn’t simply a stiff. He’s a jerk.
On the other side of the pond there the British right-wing Tim Stanley:
Sure, Romney’s quote might contain a grain of truth. But it’s also cruel and fatalistic. The American Dream is rooted in the hope that someday we’ll all be rich enough to pay lots of tax (or own a bank account in the Caymans). To suggest that some folks will stick with their entitlements forever – that’s un-American. And Mitt makes it so much worse by suggesting that he doesn’t care about them, either: “My job is not to worry about those people.”
Over there there’s also Alex Massie:
This is the thing: when you’re already the Man from Bain you don’t need more things cropping up reinforcing the most damaging stereotypes your opponents use against you. And you really don’t need to reinforce those stereotypes yourself. A simple rule of thumb: when people fear you’re a vampire squid don’t encourage them to believe you really are a vampire squid.
Another simple thing: even when the electorate merits your contempt it’s not a good idea to make your contempt quite so plain.
Romney knows that, and as he was out here in Southern California, he decided it was time for damage control:
In a hastily called press conference Monday night, Mitt Romney dismissed the viral video of that shows him telling attendees at a closed-door fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government checks and “believe that they are victims” and therefore will vote for President Obama.
Romney took only three questions at the presser, and dismissed the remarks as “off the cuff” and “not elegantly stated.” He also claimed the video spreading across the internet didn’t quote him in full context.
“I’m sure I can state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that and so I’m sure I’ll point that out as time goes on but we don’t even have the question given the snippet there, nor the full response, and I hope the person who has the video would put out the full material,” Romney said at the press conference held in Orange County, Calif.
Romney need not worry about that. David Corn has the full tape and it is all coming soon, in full. Context won’t help – so Romney stuck by his guns. Obama wants to create a society where Americans are dependent on government while he wants to create a society based on “free enterprise” – where presumably no one gets help with anything ever – but he wasn’t really sneering at half the country. That just came out wrong. And he was saying this is no big deal, even if he called a presser, as they say, at ten in the evening Eastern Time, and then turned on his heel and walked out after three questions. Here’s the video – he looked anxious and uncertain and got out of there fast.
That’s understandable, as earlier in the day Politico posted this long piece about the Romney campaign being in disarray and how it’s all the fault of chief strategist Stuart Stevens, and Ed Kilgore commented on that:
So long as there is Politico this kind of piece will continue to be published. What’s odd about it, however, is the timing: this sort of fragging from within a presidential campaign typically occurs early on, when the pecking order is still taking shape, or at some other obvious transition point like the beginning of the general election phase of the cycle. Actually, this piece is savage enough that you’d guess it would have appeared after Election Day. So it’s not a good sign for Team Mitt.
Sometimes things just get worse and worse. Ask Payton Manning, and Ta-Nehisi Coates offers this:
One theme in Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of The Elites is the notion that an elite cut off from the rest of society actually degrades. It comes to think of itself as intrinsically better than the rest of society, that its success is a strict matter of providence. Effectively the elite become divorced from reality. What is most jarring about Romney’s comments here is that divorce, that sense that Romney’s grasp of America is so thin, that he believes that half of it is dismissible strictly on the grounds of laziness.
I don’t really know what to say about a man who believes that one in two Americans believe that “the government has a responsibility to care for them.” Romney is right. Obama does start off with a big lead, but that is because he would never enter the race conceding that fully half the country was beyond his reach. A politician conceding that sort of field position is an embarrassment to himself, and his political party….
Mitt Romney has the self-ether machine set on “Kill.”
Marc Ambinder had, after all, been arguing that Romney just made a fatal error:
Let’s disregard the factual inaccuracies here, and there are many to disregard. It should be axiomatic that presidential candidates never, even in private, ever insult half of the American people. It should be double-mega axiomatic that he never do so in a room full of people.
Barack Obama, during the primary season in 2008, referred to rural voters who are “bitter” and “cling” to their guns and religion because they had deep economic anxieties. The remarks hurt Obama in the subsequent Pennsylvania primary, and Republicans (like VP nominee Paul Ryan) still use them today to bash the president as insensitive and out of touch. There is a grain of truth in these charges, which is why they’ve stuck.
This video is far worse on its face. Obama was, in a patronizing way, trying to explain why voters in certain areas voted against their economic interests. Romney is simply insulting half of the country in a way that right-wing talk radio show hosts do out of habit. If there is linguistic coding in his speech it is not very subtle: He’s playing on the resentment that many conservatives have for the Obama coalition, and the idea that those who receive government aid don’t deserve it; those who receive our money are moochers. And they of course happen to be disproportionately black and brown. (Disproportionately, maybe, but a majority are white; of the people he actually describes, half probably actually vote for Republicans. Think down-scale whites and seniors. Whoops!)
Does Romney believe this? Was he playing to the crowd? It sounded like he really believed it.
Doug Mataconis piles on:
I cannot see how this doesn’t hurt the Romney campaign. For one thing, it’s going to be the talk of the day in political circles at least for tomorrow, and possibly longer depending on how the campaign handles the fallout from this. Just as, last week, the news cycle got eaten up by Romney jumping on top of the riots in Egypt and Libya and making a statement that the majority of Americans now view negatively, this week could end up being eaten up by Mitt Romney essentially saying that half the American population is sitting fat and happy, living off the government dole, and not really his concern. Additionally, the comment simply reinforces the meme that the Obama campaign has been building all summer about Romney that he’s a detached rich guy who can’t relate to the average American, and doesn’t care about them. It was a dumb thing to say, it was wrong on the facts, and I think Romney’s going to pay a price for it.
“Athenae” at First Draft just doesn’t think so:
This is what Republicans basically think. Everybody but them is getting away with something. Everybody but them is getting some kind of special government help to succeed. Everybody but them has unearned happiness, undeserved prosperity, and suspect advantages.
They don’t see themselves when Mitt talks about people who don’t pay income taxes, even if they don’t pay income taxes because they’re old, or have kids, or don’t make enough money. They don’t see themselves as beneficiaries of government help, even if they are. … Government is something other people benefit from – black people, mostly, and lazy people, and immigrants. Not them.
They’ve been told this for years and years and years, basically without having to ever once confront an opinion to the contrary, and it’s so ingrained in them you can hold up their tax returns and show them on the goddamn forms what government benefits they received….
There’s no fighting it:
And they are voting for Mitt Romney the way they voted for John McCain and George W. Bush and Saint Ronnie Reagan and every other Republican critter who ever ran for office on making you feel like you were at least better than somebody. They are voting out of a staggering, bullying desperation to keep kicking the weaker kid, even if the weaker kid is their reflection in a mirror.
They don’t see themselves as part of a system. They see themselves as the victims of it. That Mitt secretly holds them in contempt doesn’t matter. They don’t know who they are, so they assume he’s kicking somebody else.
That’s something to think about, and if that’s right, this may blow over. After all, Payton Manning finally pulled it together and Denver lost by only one touchdown – but they lost. That may happen here.