I’ve always felt Joe Klein of Time magazine was a liberal masquerading as moderate, and his column in this week’s issue confirmed that feeling. When I saw the column’s title on the cover of the magazine – “Sore Losers” by Joe Klein – I had a strong suspicion that Joe was about to pile on poor Mitt Romney, and he surely did:
- “Has there ever been a less gracious presidential loser than Mitt Romney? I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt during the campaign. I figured he was just dialing for dollars when he massaged the Boca Raton fat cats’ fantasies about the lack of ‘responsibility’ on the part of the 47% who don’t pay income taxes. But it turns out he really believes that stuff.”
Poor, Mitt, he just can’t satisfy the mainstream press. First they criticize him for being insufficiently conservative – I believe it was George Will who first suggested that Romney speaks as if conservatism is his second-language – and now they accuse him of really believing that stuff.
Make no mistake, Romney’s comment about the 47% is pure conservatism. Yes, you can make picayune attacks on his comment by pointing out that many of the 47% are not on the government dole, but that is not the point. Conservative pundits throughout the country for many months have been using the 47% figure as a proxy for the rise of government dependence and to emphasize that America may soon reach a tipping point in favor of a Europe-like welfare state. And since the election, those same pundits, like Dennis Miller, have resigned themselves to accept the America has tipped.
Romney’s post-election comment about “gifting” to young and minority voters, which launched Klein’s latest bitter diatribe, is just as bedrock conservative, but it goes back centuries, not months or years. As Ronald Reagan said:
- “Perhaps what he had in mind was what Prof. Alexander Frazer Tytler has written, that a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority, he said, always vote for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship. Unfortunately, we can’t argue with the professor because when he wrote that we were still colonials of Great Britain and he was explaining what had destroyed the Athenian Republic more than 2000 years before.”
It is standard Republican orthodoxy to accuse the Democrats of pandering to its motley collection of special interests – unions, public employees, minorities, feminists – and Romney’s “gifting” comments were completely in line with that orthodoxy. That is why Klein’s diatribe, although consistent with his liberal philosophy, is unjustified.
More troubling for me, however, is the “gifting” criticism that has emanated from conservative politicians. LA governor Bobby Jindal declared, “That is absolutely wrong…. We need to go after 100% of the votes, not 53%.” And one of my favorites, SC senator Lindsey Graham said, “Most people on public assistance don’t have a character flaw. They just have a tough life.”
Jindal’s comment bothers me because it seems to be unnecessary piling on. Romney retracted his 47% comment almost as soon as he made it – just as Obama did with his “guns and religion” comment – and although I wouldn’t expect the mainstream media to let it go away, I don’t understand why a leading Republican governor wants to emphasize it.
Graham’s comment bothers me more because it seems to deny the conservative argument for accountability and personal responsibility. When a Brookings Institute study in 2009 showed that individuals can almost certainly avoid poverty by (1) graduating from high school, (2) getting a job, and (c) marrying before having kids, the conservative consensus was that this was something we already knew. Most individuals don’t end up on public assistance because of bad luck, but rather because of bad decisions, and Lindsay’s comment fails to recognize that.
I understand Jindal and Graham trying, as smooth-talking politicians, to soften the harshness of Romney’s comments, both of which were supposed to be off-the-record. But I don’t appreciate their attempt to gain points at the expense of a good man who waged a good battle.