I saw THE video last night (see below) after I got home from work and my first reaction was: what's the big deal? I didn't hear much that I hadn't already heard from the candidate in the subtext of his previous public declarations and nothing he said seemed likely to disturb his base. If anything I was impressed by the directness and confidence of his delivery. There was none of the halting, the searching for the right words, the forced chuckle or smile that I had found disquieting about Romney's public persona. He seemed a man comfortable in his shoes, nothing phony or indecisive about him. I had had trouble imagining Romney as the guy who could make tough calls in the Oval office, but this guy I was watching seemed a completely different animal. Perhaps he just neeed to chill with his homies in order to be himself.
But while I was focusing on the body language, other people were focusing on, well, the language language. The Mother Jones video has blasted across the internet and people are talking and not just the 47 percent that Romney seemed to dismiss as hopeless moochers and burdens to the rest of us (wait a minute, I'm in that 47 percent!). I don't think I could do a better job of dissecting Romney's comments than David Brooks, not exactly an anarchist's hearthrob, did this morning, so let's just tune in to Brook's "Thurston Howell Romney:
Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people.... It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined.... The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees....
Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.