If Americans want “free stuff,” they have the power to take it.
Mitt Romney, once again deriding Americans from his elitist perch, gave a gift of revelation to U.S. citizens when he characterized us as people who vote for whichever candidate promises us the most stuff.
“What the president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition. Give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote,” Romney said in a conference call with wealthy donors after his decisive election-day defeat. “The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
Romney’s comments were a natural follow-up to ones he made at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in May.
“There are 47 percent,” Romney said in Florida, “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
The post-election statement on gifts was bizarre coming from a man whose campaign revolved around giving “stuff” to a tiny minority of the population. He promised tax breaks for the wealthy, lower inheritance taxes and cheap labor. He generally promised to alleviate the rich from the pesky responsibilities that accrue from flourishing in a country that protects their ability to accumulate assets.
The liberal reaction to the “we built that” mentality looming over the most recent presidential campaign is that workers built it, too. They are correct, of course. Owners provide expertise and capital. Employees provide the labor. The classes are interdependent.
The timing of Romney’s comments on government gifts, however, is a reminder of a more fundamental dependence the capitalist has on the masses. If the people grow weary of their comparative poverty — or if they just get sick of being insulted by those with a surplus of wealth and a shortage of humility — they can change the system.
Romney’s silver-spoon perspective blinds him to the collective wisdom of U.S. voters.
If Americans were as craven and irresponsible as Romney seems to think, they could end the financial reign of Romney and his buddies. Americans could impose confiscatory inheritance taxes, distributing the proceeds equally. They could impose income taxes a whole lot higher than the top marginal rate of 39.6 percent that President Barack Obama is seeking. They could give more power to unions. They could increase the capital-gains tax, the same one that allows Romney to pay only 13 percent on his millions while middle-class Americans pay twice as much. They could double the minimum wage. They could nationalize whole industries and enjoy the profits.
Americans have not taken these steps, a testament to the fact that they collectively are willing to forego short-term windfalls for a strong American economy. They have the power to take all the stuff they want, but Americans see the wisdom of allowing people like Romney to accumulate capital.
Romney and other capitalists are not the intended beneficiaries of Americans’ restraint. Voters understand capitalists possess a valuable talent that will benefit the nation only if we maintain institutions allowing them to profit. We are willing to support a system that disproportionately benefits Romney because it also benefits America.
It is Romney and capitalists, more than the rest of us, who are the recipient of gifts. Despite massive and growing income inequality, despite immense poverty side-by-side with conspicuous wealth, Americans resist the temptation to legally confiscate their neighbors’ riches.
Asking U.S. voters to continue their restraint while Romney insults them, however, is pushing it.
Even as they reduce pay for their employees, cut health and retirement benefits, outsource to foreign countries, break unions and amass historic levels of wealth, Romney and those like him whine. They whine about having to participate in the cost of health care for Americans. They complain bitterly at paying a little more income tax, still far less than their parents paid. They cry foul when Americans seek solutions that result in livable wages. Their companies cause recessions and soil the coast, yet they go ballistic at the concept of regulation. And they demand handouts when their own reckless actions derail the U.S. economy.
If Americans were as pathetic as Romney believes, they would have ended American capitalism long ago. U.S. voters allow the rich to flourish. They struggle to keep their homes while people like Romney own a half dozen mansions. Americans do so not as a favor to the rich, but because they operate under the collective acknowledgement that American strength depends on vigorous capitalism.
America’s greatness depends in part on capitalism. It also depends on voters wise enough to tolerate condescension without exacting economic revenge.