Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

October 4, 2012

Romney campaign must get 'on message'

By Taylor Armerding

— "A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul."

That declaration, attributed to Irish dramatist and socialist George Bernard Shaw in 1944, has become a cliche because it is, in general, true.

But a version of it - that 47 percent of the electorate will vote for President Obama simply because they don't pay any federal income tax - got Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney into major trouble this past week.

It should have. Romney, in a hastily called press conference, admitted that his rhetoric, answering a question at a fundraiser was "inelegant." I'll take that several steps further. It was stupid.

Romney is not stupid. He's very smart. But smart people say stupid things sometimes. And it would be much better for him to admit as much, rather than try to deflect it with weasel words like "inelegant." It's the only way to start getting out of the hole he dug for himself.

With about a month and a half to go before the election, Romney handed Democrats yet another gift-wrapped distraction from the failures of the Obama administration. He handed them some more straw men - that he doesn't think it worthwhile to try to connect with anyone on government support and that those on government support are all moochers and layabouts. All anybody is talking about is how he insulted almost half the country.

Sure, the timing of it is a bit curious. The fundraiser where Romney made those comments was in May. Only now, much closer to the election, is it coming to light, thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Carter's semi-employed grandson.

But so what? That's politics.

So, at least for the next week or so, Romney and his campaign will be "off message," while both conservatives and liberals focus on the trees and ignore the forest.

The forest is the problem - a very big problem - with entitlements in this country. But we're not going to be talking about that. We're going to be talking about individual trees - how Romney was wrong on the details.

He was - in a number of ways. While somewhere in the range of 47 percent of "taxpayer units" don't pay federal income taxes, most pay payroll taxes - Social Security and Medicare - as has been incessantly pointed out. Beyond that, of the 18.1 percent of households that pay neither income nor payroll taxes, most are elderly or earn less than $20,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.

And while there are indeed millions of people in America with an entitlement mentality, they are nowhere near 47 percent of the population. Most of those who don't pay income taxes would love to make enough to move into a tax bracket. Millions of them are looking for jobs and can't find them.

The scandal is not so much that there are some freeloaders out there. The scandal, which should have been Romney's focus, is that the Obama administration encourages them. It tells them they are entitled just because some other people have more money than they do.

This administration doesn't try to get people off food stamps and welfare, it tries to sign more of them up - one thing it has done successfully. In 2008, there were 30 million people on food stamps. Now there are 46 million, after about a trillion dollars of various stimulus programs that, we were promised, would goose the economy. Now, Obama is calling food stamps a form of stimulus.

Unemployment is officially 8.2 percent nationally, but if George W. Bush were still president, we would hear constantly that the real rate is much worse, since so many people have given up looking for work.

This administration tries to make it easier for people to get on, or stay on, welfare. It celebrates dependency. Why else would it promote the asinine "Life of Julia," which celebrates a lifetime of dependency on government? Why else would it give a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention to the execrable Sandra Fluke to talk not about access to birth control but that government should force her insurer to cover it?

The scandal is that this administration promotes envy - if anybody is rich, they must have gotten that way by taking money from the poor. Instead of encouraging us to aspire to success, they encourage us to resent the successful. They try to convince us that the only reason we're $16 trillion in debt is because the wealthy aren't paying their "fair share," not because of the government spending money it doesn't have.

The scandal is that Obama keeps arguing that the only way to "create" jobs is for government to "invest" more. In other words, the only jobs he wants to create are government-funded jobs, which of course are funded by people trying to run businesses who, if they weren't taxed and regulated so heavily, might try to hire a few more people.

But we're not hearing any of that. Romney's disrespect for the "47 percent" is now firmly fixed in the public mind.

Romney would almost surely be a better president than Obama. But he is a much worse candidate. Right now, that is all that matters.

- Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net.