Mitt Romney has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."
Irreparable? To Romney's image, yes; to his election chances ... we'll see. But you know who's determined that Romney never recover? His deluded supporters in the conservative media world.
Here's National Review news editor Daniel Foster. After conceding that Romney's remarks about the 47% were maladroit, Foster wrote:
In other words, the more fully Romney owns these comments the less the press can report them as a “gaffe.” Romney is now in a position that he has to bring the fight to Obama on the entitlement state.
Likewise, former National Review editor John O'Sullivan:
If Romney responds to the Mother Jones story by backing off from his basic argument that far too many Americans are dependent upon the government and that this dependency skews their votes, he will weaken his campaign enormously.
My Twitter feed has a lot more in this vein, and expect it to become the definitive conservative point of view after Rush Limbaugh weighs in at noon.
Romney was expressing views that are widely held among a certain group of conservatives, and they are determined to make it as awkward as possible for him to retreat from those views.
You might wonder: why?
As David Brooks asked this morning:
Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?
More than one-fifth of Romney's moocher 47% are elderly: people who pay no income taxes because their income takes the form of Social Security - many of those people are Republican voters (even if they don't understand "dependency" to apply to them).
Among today's elderly, the great majority will receive more in Medicare benefits than they ever paid in taxes - dependency again. You can do the math for yourself and your parents right here:
(Those who retired prior to 1967 received full Medicare benefits without ever paying into Medicare at all.)
And as Ezra Klein pointed out yesterday, more than 60% of the 47% pay payroll taxes. At 15.3%, the payroll tax rate represents a higher rate of tax than that paid by Mitt Romney himself.
Only about one-fifth of taxpayers are non-elderly people who pay no tax at all, and they are paying no tax mostly because they are unemployed in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that candidate Romney blames on the president and promises to correct. It seems a hard saying to call these promised beneficiaries of a Romney recovery people who don't take responsibility for their lives.
So again: why?
Start with this data point:
When you ask white Americans to estimate the black population of the United States, the answer averages out at nearly 30%. Ask them to estimate the Hispanic population, and the answer averages out at 22%.
So when a politician or a broadcaster talks about 47% in "dependency," the image that swims into many white voters' minds is not their mother in Florida, her Social Security untaxed, receiving Medicare benefits vastly greater than her lifetime tax contributions; it is not their uncle, laid off after 30 years and now too old to start over. No, the image that comes into mind is minorities on welfare. Like this, for example: