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Romney's '47 Percent' Argument Counterproductive


Some conservatives have denounced Romney's remarks. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol called them arrogant and stupid. In the New York Times, David Brooks wrote that it shows Mitt Romney doesn't understand the country or its culture. But others, such as radio personality Rush Limbaugh, have come to the candidate's defense.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: When he talks to his donors about these 47 percent that are locked into Obama, he does it with disappointment, sadness and maybe a little disgust. Where everybody analyzing this is wrong is he would love to be able to reach them. He has not written them off.

SIEGEL: Well, here to add to this discussion is Jonah Goldberg, contributing editor to the conservative National Review online. Welcome - welcome once again.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, you write that there are some real flaws in what candidate Mitt Romney said about the 47 percent.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, there's a lot that's just simply factually wrong and confused. One way to think about it is he put a lot of things that are true in a blender, whizzed them all up and then what came out was a mish-mash which confused a lot of different things and I don't think was his finest moment.

SIEGEL: But in the end of your piece today, you conclude by writing: If Romney showed a little more of the spirit he shows in this video, I'm not sure it wouldn't help.

GOLDBERG: And I think that's right. I think that one of the main grievances that a lot of people on the right have with Mitt Romney is that it is such a focus-group campaign. It is - contrary to what a lot of what you hear in the mainstream media and in the left-wing press, he is not running as some sort of rabid ideologue. Conservatives sort of ran almost a Michael Dukakis-like message during the convention where the argument seemed to be the economy has failed because Barack Obama has a bad resume and didn't know what to do. I'm the competence guy. I can make everything work. And it left out of all this are the actual ideological conservative ideas about how the economy works and all the rest.

SIEGEL: But a presidential candidate aspires to say some time in January that he's going to be the president of 100 percent of the people, it doesn't work well to have written off 47 percent of them at some point in a video.

GOLDBERG: No, and that's the fundamental problem with this. It's a pure coincidence that the 47 percent of the people who are against Mitt Romney, right, or for Barack Obama, that 47 percent is also used for a statistical analysis of people who get benefits from government. But the two don't overlap. I'd rather prefer the conservative populism of running against limousine liberals.

Barack Obama in 2008 was the candidate of the one percent. He got more money from Wall Street than John McCain did. And yet, in this iteration, there's this idea that half of the country are deadbeats and moochers because they're not voting for Mitt Romney, which I just think is a really simplistic and counterproductive way of framing things.

SIEGEL: Arguments over government benefits usually raise this question, for me at least. If tax dollars are given to a needy citizen to pay his doctor or his landlord or the supermarket where he buys groceries, who's the moocher? Is it the needy citizen or is it the doctor or the landlord or the grocer who is given, presented with a paying customer by the government, somebody who would be indigent otherwise?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, the simple fact is that - Paul Ryan talks about these things better. What he'll say is I don't want people born into a society with a bad lot in life and the government to come along and say, I'll make your lot a little more tolerable, but that's where you're stuck forever. He wants to create an opportunity society that creates economic opportunities for everybody.

And the problem with the way Romney sounds in that video is that he's writing that off and cynically just saying, these people are a loss to me. And I don't think that's a really positive message.

SIEGEL: Of course, the other version of all of those programs is that they help handicap the race a bit, level the playing field so that people have a better chance to be able to prosper and succeed in life, even if they weren't born with advantages.

GOLDBERG: Sure. But, you know, Mitt Romney's tapping into something real. My colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, Nick Everstat, has a new book out where he points out that since 1960, entitlement payments to individuals have increased 724 percent. There's a real sense out there that the game is being rigged and I think that a lot of people who watch what Mitt Romney said, they're not going to say, hey, you know, I don't pay income taxes anymore 'cause I'm retired or I'm just starting out, I don't pay income taxes yet - he's insulting me.

I think that some of what they may hear out of that is this guy is tapping into a very real problem, even if he really mangled the statistics.

SIEGEL: Jonah Goldberg of the National Review and the American Enterprise Institute, thanks a lot for talking with us.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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