Philosophical commentary on contemporary political issues in the tradition of Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Sandel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romney's "47% Speech" Misses Point of Government Assistance

Mitt Romney's campaign has been struggling recently, suffering from a subpar convention, internal struggles, and a botched response to the recent tragedy in Libya. But the miscue that is making the most news this week is a video posted by Mother Jones Magazine in which Romney characterizes half the country as welfare-dependent freeloaders who he has no need to "worry about."

While much has been written about the factual inaccuracies in Romney's claims in the video, in particular him claiming that the 47% of Americans who do not pay income taxes (many of whom are paying payroll taxes, in the military, or retired) are the same 47% of Americans who receive some sort of benefit from the government and are the same 47% who are currently supporting President Obama's reelection. Others have talked about the troubling ramifications of Romney's assertion that it is "not my job to worry about these people," implying that 47% of Americans should not be of his concern because he cannot ever hope to get their votes

What has not been covered, however, is Romney's troubling misunderstanding of the purpose of government assistance. Throughout the campaign, Romney has railed against a culture of "dependence," trying to paint the current administration and the Democratic Party as a whole as heartless socialists, trying to create a class of Americans that are dependent on government programs and thus dependent on the Democratic Party for subsistence. This came to a head with the Romney campaign's absurd allegations that the Obama administration was somehow trying to gut the Clinton administration work requirement from the current welfare system.

The problem with Romney's rhetoric about government programs is that he consistently overstates his case. While Romney will often pay lip service to the importance of government intervention to help those who are in dire circumstances, he will just as often make the mistake of characterizing all government assistance as demeaning and frivolous.

Both major parties in the United States today are essentially liberal in their political philosophy. Both the Republican and Democratic party espouse the same central values of liberty and equality put forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: that men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

The function of the government in the eyes of both parties is to, at its core, secure life and liberty for its citizens. This is why, over the years, the federal, state, and local governments of the United States have worked to ensure their citizens have the means to live healthy, productive lives. A person who is hungry all day, cannot afford the health care they need to survive, or has no home to go back to at night  is not being afforded their basic rights of life and liberty.

So when Romney decries Americans for feeling "entitled to health care, to food, to housing," he misses the point of our American system. While he may have never had to feel the pinch in regards to getting food, receiving health care, or finding housing, these are issues that everyday Americans deal with all the time, especially the elderly, the disabled, and the very poor.

The argument that Romney should be making is that it is better to be self-sufficient than dependent on the government. That we should keep the safety nets that are needed and do away with those that keep people dependent. That to earn means on our own is better than to receive means from others, but paying attention to the fact that no one gets a start without help from someone.

1 comment:

  1. Great post and well put. At the end of the day government has basic responsibilities it must deliver in order for citizens to exercise and enjoy their natural and civil rights. Without that basic assistance, as you rightly point out, it is very difficult (especially in times of financial crisis) to be self-sufficient.
    I would also add, that in times of economic uncertainty removing those social safety nets deprives citizens of their ability to exercise certain rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). This could be interpreted as a deprivation of freedom.