Skip to main content

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

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
updated 2:38 PM EST, Thu November 15, 2012
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
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
updated 2:33 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT