Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "47%"

While I was doing my other tasks, I was listening to the coverage on NPR of the Great Gaffe of this Campaign, Mitt Romney's statement in Boca Raton last May that forty seven percent of the voters are a lock for Obama because they pay no income tax and are dependent on government for their support which they believe they are entitled to.

I think that's a fair paraphrase of what he said to his $50,000 a plate audience (reminding me of Bush's comment about his base, "the haves and the have mores." At least he was honest about it.)

The coverage of the brou-ha-hah was striking for the fact that in every report -- and there were many -- the reporters and bureau chiefs and commentators were making excuses for Romney and explaining "what he really meant to say." Which came out the same as what he said only polished up a little bit. Not only that, but over and over and over again, the "47%" meme was reinforced, as if it were propaganda.

As I was listening to the coverage, I wondered if perhaps this was the first time most people had ever heard of the fact that "47%" of Americans don't pay income tax and are dependent on government. Those of us who pay attention to political matters have been hearing it from the Rightists for a long time, as they constantly whine about the poors, the olds, the halts, and the lames who "don't pay taxes."

But does everybody hear it? I don't think so. Now that it's "out there"  -- thanks to David Corn and Mother Jones -- everybody, potentially, has heard it, and if the other news outfits have been covering it like NPR has been covering it, making excuses for Romney, and reinforcing the meme, then the propaganda no doubt will be effective.

Which, given some of the stories I've heard about both David Corn and Mother Jones, may be the intent.

It's been used by the Rightists to claim that there are all these freeloaders who simply get money for nothing (and their chicks for free? ;-) from the Government as "entitlements." It's Alan Simpson's complaint about Social Security ("a milk cow with 300 million tits") and Reagan's canard about Welfare Queens cheerfully conflated with the suggestion that only Those People (you know the ones) vote Democrat, and they're all dependent because they "don't pay taxes."

By spreading it far and wide this way -- and explaining it in great and almost obsessive detail -- it becomes CW which is then used to -- ta da -- broaden the base and lower the rates of taxation.  Which is code for shifting the tax burden from them that's got to them that's not. Which has been the plan all along.

Basically, the rich who have the most money, goods, and chattel sincerely believe that they should not be subjected to the burden of taxation because they see it as punishment; they certainly don't believe that they should be forced to carry so much of the income tax burden in this country. Never mind that the income tax was established specifically to tax the incomes of the highest earners and to exempt the incomes of the lowest earners. They claim it's unfair and immoral to tax the incomes of "successful" people so as to give money (their money) to the "failures."

Charity should suffice. If it doesn't, oh well, too bad.

It is, after all, the way things were organized back in those Glory Days of Yore when there were no curbs on corporate rapine and the abuses of the moneyed elite.

The reasons why so many Americans don't pay income taxes has little to do with dependence but the coverage has successfully conflated not paying income taxes with dependence to the point that I wouldn't doubt those who do "pay taxes" are outraged.

There was another factor in the coverage that was troubling to say the least. Time after time, as one or another NPR bright light bustled to the microphone to explain what Mitt really meant, the topics of the debt and entitlements were raised, and once again the two were conflated --as in  "the entitlements are driving the debt, yadda yadda" -- with hardly a mention about the numerous wars of imperial aggression and all their collateral costs and damage, and none at all about all the extortion and tribute being paid to the Highest of the Mighty financiers.

None of this ever gets mentioned in any comprehensive manner in the mainstream media. This issue is always presented as one of dependent people who "don't pay taxes" and "entitlements."

There has been very little effective counter.

As Romney doubled down on his comments, clearly his handlers have decided that he's presenting the issue correctly for the purposes of propaganda, and as his statements and those of other Rightists are spread far and wide and repeated over and over again, he seems to be getting plenty of mileage out of it.


  1. The 47% meme came out of, I think it was CNNs Erick Ericson, during the Occupy movement as a specific counter to the 99% meme:

    That's why Romney was talking about it when that video was taken. For whatever reason, it was temporarily abandoned as a propaganda move not long after that. It's a deliberate attack on the progressive nature of income taxes, and on the solidarity meme represented by 99% versus 1%.

    I don't think the Republican Party intended to make it a centerpiece of their campaign, so I don't think it's some kind of conspiracy to reintroduce it. (Part of the reason is I don't think it's good for the bloated plutocrats topping the Republican ticket to be reminding people of percents. If they had chosen a different candidate maybe it could have worked.)

    Romney can't really attack the meme though. Not only would that violate his true core beliefs, but Republicans probably intend to resurrect it again when it is useful. They need a counter to "We are the 99%" and this is the best they've got. (Notice that in this meme they have a bare majority, 53% still represents majority rule.)

  2. I also believe that in this election the Republicans have decided that ideological purity is more important than winning the election. This is not to say that Republicans are "throwing" the election, though I occasionally make that joke.

    Rather that unique among this years crop of Republican presidential competitors, Mitt Romney, as a centrist former governor of Massachusetts, had the option to run (and indeed govern) to the left of Obama. That could have been a winning strategy. It would have caused Obama to move Left though, and the kind of harsh Austerity measures they've decided are necessary may have been mitigated somewhat no matter who won. (Not that what happens during an election necessarily has anything to do with post-election governance. It still could have had an impact.)

    All the important people believe in ever growing wealth for the plutocrats, everywhere in the world, and increasing poverty for everyone else. Because of this Romney has to run in the tiny sliver of Right Wing space between Barack Obama and Benito Mussolini that's left to him. It's not an enviable position for a candidate to be in and it's why triangulation has worked so well for the Democrats so far.

  3. pws-- excellent analyses.

    Our Rulers are convinced they can get away with it, too. From all the signs, they're probably right. The plutocrats are getting richer, and -- at least in the "advanced" countries, the People are getting poorer.

    Part of what intrigues me about the RnR ticket is that these are perfect examples of the kind of predators who exploit everyone else -- the kind of predators who have caused the financial, educational, employment and social problems we are suffering from. They've become almost cartoons of the rich and their running dogs. The American People wisely reject them (at least from what I can tell), but the Governing Class embraces them ever more fully, and we will no doubt see the next Obama administration adopt most of the RnR program -- but with a big ol' smile instead of a sneer.

    The propaganda regarding the 47% and the "takers and makers" and all that, however, is working. When in distress like this, people will respond to scapegoating some "Other" -- and in this case, the "Other" is everyone else.

    It was true during the Great Depression, too. It was not a time of much compassion for the suffering masses, though memories are clouded with myths of just the opposite. There was much scapegoating and worse, and charity and human kindness was in very short supply. Often, it was absent.

    I don't know whether it is American culture or human nature that makes people resent the benefits or advantages some of their peers enjoy and ignore the exploitation by their Betters, but it is something politicians have been taking advantage of for as long as I can remember, and it works.

    More's the pity.

  4. Yes, how did those scamps over at the Exiled put it?

    "At the other end of the economic spectrum, non-millionaires who vote
    Republican, the so-called 'Reagan Democrats,' know that the country is not theirs. They are mere
    wage-slave fodder, so their only hope is to vote for someone who makes the very happiest people’s
    lives a little less happy. If I’m an obese 40-something white male living in Ohio or Nevada, locked
    into a permanent struggle with foreclosure, child support payments and outsourcing threats,
    then I’m going to vote for the guy who delivers a big greasy portion of misery to the Sarandon-Robbins
    dining room table, then brags about it on FoxNews. Even if it means hurting myself in the process."

    Well, that was published in NY Press, but it's by Mark Ames,

    Taibbi said something similar:

    "Being in the building with Palin that night [of her acceptance speech for the VP nomination] is a transformative and oddly unsettling experience. It’s a little like having live cave-level access for the ripping-the-heart-out-with-the-bare-hands scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A scary-as-hell situation: thousands of pudgy Midwestern conservatives worshipping at the Altar of the Economic Producer, led by a charismatic arch-priestess letting loose a grade-A war cry. The clear subtext of Palin’s speechi is this: other politicians only talk about fighting these assholes. I actually will.

    Palin is talking to voters whose country is despised internationally, no longer an industrial manufacturing power, fast becoming an economic vassal to the Chinese and the Saudis, and just a week away from an almost-total financial collapes. Nobody here is likely to genuinely believe a speech that promises better things.

    But cultural civil war, you have that no matter how broke you are. And if you want that I, Sarah Palin, can give it to you."

    And that pretty much explains that... although it is very... sad doesn't seem right... rage inspiring maybe the phrase I'm looking for.

  5. Oh, one other thing, this is from an old Ann Coulter column, the context is fairly irrelevant:

    "There's a joke about a Frenchman, an Englishman and a Russian who are told they have only one day until the end of the world. The Frenchman says he will spend his last day with a bottle of Bordeaux and a beautiful woman. The Englishman says he will take his favorite sheepdog for a walk across the moors. The Russian says he will burn down his neighbor's house. I'm with the Russian. " --