Skip to main content

Romney 'gifts' comment not a new idea on the right

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
November 15, 2012 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
Mitt Romney likely sees benefits for regular folk as
Mitt Romney likely sees benefits for regular folk as "gifts," but tax breaks for those like him and wife Ann aren't, the writer says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Romney now sees Obama won by diabolically helping voters with policies
  • He says Romney told donors these "gifts" aimed at blacks, Hispanics, women, young
  • Waldman: This idea not new from the right -- tax breaks not "gifts," but public benefits are
  • Waldman: Election actually revealed this disconnect, and voters showed they didn't buy it

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at The American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It took until the presidential campaign was over, but Mitt Romney finally figured out the sinister plan Barack Obama executed to win re-election. Here's how it worked: During his first term, Obama craftily carried out policies that helped improve Americans' lives, thereby tricking them into voting to re-elect him. Diabolical!

OK, that wasn't exactly how he put it. But in a conference call with his major donors after the campaign ended, Romney attributed his loss to the fact that Obama gave "gifts" to various groups to win their loyalty. Young people, women, Latinos, African-Americans, all voted for Obama because he showered them with presents, he concluded.

"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift," Romney said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people."

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

Romney's interpretation of the election results provides an apt footnote to his campaign, an encore performance of the infamous "47%" videotape. And that was hardly an isolated incident; you'll recall that Romney spent weeks attacking the Obama administration for supposedly eliminating the work requirements in welfare.

"You wouldn't have to work," said a Romney ad. "They just send you your welfare check." The claim was false, but it sent the message he wanted: Obama was the candidate of the moocher class, the leeches who wanted only to luxuriate in their unearned benefits while good people worked for a living.

But this idea didn't just occur to Romney out of nowhere. If in the last couple of years you've been listening to conservative talk radio, watching Fox News or even attending panel discussions at tony conservative think tanks in Washington, you've heard this analysis again and again. As the title of a recent book by a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute has it, we've become "A Nation of Takers," selfishly grabbing what we can while hoping someone else will pay for it all.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



And since the election, one conservative after another has been complaining about those ungrateful Americans with their hands out. "There are 50% of the voting public who want stuff. They want things," said Bill O'Reilly on Election Night. "And who is going to give them things? President Obama."

Which brings us back to the word Romney used over and over on that phone call: "gift." Apparently, he believes that when the government works to ensure that everyone has access to health care, or that young people can afford to attend college, it's kind of like giving a kid a new Xbox -- he didn't need it, he probably didn't deserve it, but we gave it to him anyway so there won't be any tantrums for a while.

Romney defends his '47%' comment
Who are the 47%?
Romney: 'Completely wrong' on 47%

You might say that a guy who doesn't have an actual job, yet pulls in $20 million a year on which he pays 14% in federal income taxes because of how the tax system is so skewed in his favor perhaps should not be talking so contemptuously about the government giving people gifts.

But in the world that Romney and his wealthy donors inhabit, policies that benefit the upper class can't possibly be "gifts." Is eliminating the estate tax a gift? Heavens, no. It's just a way to encourage investment, which is good for all of us. Only benefits that accrue to the common folk are gifts, those undeserving masses gauche enough to send their children to public schools (another gift), who worry about finding insurance if they have a pre-existing condition, who think that clean air and water are things everyone deserves.

The truth is that we are all both takers and givers, at different times and in different ways. We pay taxes and we get benefits from government, both collective (such as national defense and clean air) and individual (such as Medicare). We take from our parents, then give to our children. We're individuals who make our own way, but we also live in a society where we depend on one another every day.

For all the pettiness and silly attacks we saw in this election, there was also a genuine and enlightening philosophical debate. Republicans tried to paint the nation as an Ayn Rand fantasy world in which there are only two kinds of people: the brave individualists needing nothing from anyone, and the blood-sucking parasites who rely on government. The voters took a look at that fantasy and decided it wasn't true.

But Romney still believes it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT