Last week, I watched the entire 68-minute video of Mitt Romney speaking at a Republican fundraiser — the event where he talked about his perceptions of those Americans who pay no federal income tax.
The fundraiser was a small, intimate gathering of about 35 people seated around joined tables grouped into a large square — but open in the middle — with Romney located at the head. While the guests ate dinner, Romney stood and spoke conversationally about many issues. Guests periodically asked questions or good-naturedly added wry or helpful comments to his presentation.
Throughout the event, Romney was relaxed, human, witty and humorous. He spoke about his father, who was born in Mexico, and made a joke about wishing he were Latino — to help him with electoral demographics — that contained just the right blend of self-consciousness and irony, and the sort of black humor, laugh-at-ourselves relief that is sometimes necessary to counter the sometimes tyrannical absurdities of life.
The joke was aimed at himself, not Latinos. The guests laughed at the thought of the mild, reserved, Mormon Romney having the warmth, soul and ease of the best Latin culture. I mention this joke because some Romney detractors are picking at it. That’s like relentless Obama critics who insist every move the president makes is a threat to the Constitution, or an attempt to impose socialism. Both sides need to give the hysteria a rest, and focus on the actual policy differences of the two candidates.
The real controversy that came out of the fundraiser video — one that we can learn from — stems from Romney’s description and characterizations of Americans who pay no federal income taxes. Here, I think he looked misinformed and limited in both real-world experience and in imagination.
He said, referring to 47 percent of the American people, “There are 47 percent who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.