Fact Check Your Leadership Judgements! Mitt Romneyʻs 47% Speech

Viral Video: Whatʻs a Potential Leader to Do?

Itʻs hit the news hard: Mitt Romney called 47% of Americans deadbeats at a May fundraiser! (Leaked yesterday to the press and the world via YouTube).

Or did he? Is that what he meant? Maybe, maybe not.

Before you take my word for anything, check out  the video taken at the Republican fundraiser. Please!

A summary for those that donʻt want to click-through: He seems to criticizes 47% of the population that pays no taxes, and yet nonetheless feels entitled to health care, food, housing. “So our [campaign] message of low taxes doesnʻt connect.” He is saying his job is “not to worry about those people,” but to try and get the votes of the 10% independents in the center.

Technically, heʻs not saying that he doesnʻt care about the working poor. Heʻs saying theyʻll never vote for him, so in his campaign strategy, heʻs not even thinking about the people heʻll never reach as a candidate.

Still, itʻs not a very hopeful sign for a candidate to disparage almost 50% of the population as “entitled” sheep, dependent on government programs and therefore blindly voting for Democrats. Not a hopeful sign for his campaign or the Republican Partyʻs platform, “Reforming Government to Serve the People.”

The video and the message is going viral (1,410,901 views as of 2:25 on September 18, after being posted September 17). The full quote is available and being heard, so we can judge for ourselves how deeply Romneyʻs shot his campaign in the foot by framing his campaign like he frames his politics — through the lens of privilege for a privileged audience.

How do we judge the “authenticity” of the candidate now?

This afternoon, Stephen Stromberg asked some interesting questions about authenticity on his Washington Post blog, “Have we finally seen the real Mitt Romney?” First he quotes one of the analysts leaping to the issue — “The video exposes an authentic Romney,” New York Magazine’s Jon Chait writes. “Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party.”

Then he notes: “the video is just as easily — probably more easily — seen as another example of how inauthentic Romney often seems. Romney was not speaking to a group of close friends; he was at a fundraiser in a hedge-fund manager’s Florida home. That’s an audience primed to feel as though the government captures too much of the wealth they create in order to support Americans who do not apply their abilities as usefully…. If Romney’s history provides evidence of any core strategic instinct, it’s this: He responds aggressively to the incentives placed in front of him at any given time. It should not be surprising that Romney would denigrate the “takers” in America in front of a group “makers,” from whom he wants big checks. Nor should it be surprising that he would do so just as he was finishing a primary campaign in which he was sometimes uncomfortably desperate to prove his acceptability to the GOP’s base and donors.” Read more…

It seems seeing “the real Mitt Romney” is harder than we thought.

Metaphors are flying. Itʻs not just the progressive columnists like Chait. New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks compared Romney to Thurston Howell III, the wealthy character from the television show “Gilligan’s Island.”  Rush Limbaugh imagines Romney as an impartial observer, a rationalist even, simply naming “true” statistics that reflect “the victims of an economy that shrinks,” concluding Romneyʻs comment is “like saying the sky is blue,” and then, through his famously romping rhetoric, deflecting the blame onto Obamaʻs policies.

But thereʻs nothing rational here, with all these projections colliding and the candidates trying to seem real in the melee. Since authenticity in a spinning campaign seems to be measured largely our judgement about a candidate, then what are we to do? How do we know whatʻs real?

FACT-CHECK, FACT-CHECK, FACT-CHECK

Bonnie Kavoussi of the Huffington Post says today: Romney’s 47 percent figure lumped together separate groups that have little relation to one another. Most Americans do pay taxes: The poorest fifth of Americans paid an effective tax rate of 17 percent last year, and the second-poorest fifth paid an effective tax rate of 21 percent, when factoring in payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes, among others, according to Citizens for Tax Justice.It is true that 46 percent of American households did not pay federal income taxes last year, according to the Tax Policy Center. But that number is unusually high, in part because of the recession — and a majority of that 46 percent still paid payroll taxes. Only 18 percent of American households paid no income taxes and no payroll taxes last year. It is largely low-income seniors and very poor people that legally don’t pay federal income taxes or payroll taxes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Tax Policy Center.It was also inaccurate for Romney to claim that those who don’t pay federal income taxes would vote for President Obama “no matter what.” Nearly all states with a high percentage of Americans that don’t pay federal income taxes vote Republican in presidential elections, according to the Washington Post.”

Oops. Whether or not he was being real, his facts apparently werenʻt, and he ended up dismissing his own constituency, in a way.

Romney defended himself, awkwardly, in a press conference yesterday. “Itʻs not elegantly stated…. But itʻs a message that Iʻm going to carry and continue to carry…. This is really a discussion about, I thought, the political process of winning the election.”

We the voters are leaders in our communities — and our moment of largest influence is almost upon us. We may be projecting our hopes and fears onto the candidates (thatʻs only human), but letʻs check the authenticity of our opinions by checking the facts at every turn, and hold our potential leaders accountable for their words. An authentic president should talk about the world accurately. Since we live in the world behind the spin, weʻd best be vigilant.

One comment

  1. […] that this isn’t political — it is. Not that we don’t have to fact check to make sure the truth he’s telling is backed up — we do. Gopnik is talking about the […]

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