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47 per cent true (crosspost from CT)

September 27th, 2012

As Chris Bertram says in comments here, Romney’s main hope of getting away with his claim that 47 per cent of the US population are non-taxpaying moochers is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent. The same calculation is made by those who have pushed this talking point for years such as well-known plagiarist Ben Domenech and general lowlife Erick Erickson. It’s unsurprising that they should think this. After all, they’ve been making this claim, in one form or another for years, going back to the WSJ’s attack on “lucky duckies” in 2002. The claim has been refuted time and again with the points that most of the 47 per cent are workers subject to payroll tax, or retired people, but this refutation hasn’t reached the Fox News audience, many of whom don’t realise they are the moochers being attacked here.

But I don’t think this will help Romney, and the reasons why reflect some important developments in relation to post-truth political discourse in the US.

The parallel universe constructed by the right is built primarily on talking points, of which “47 per cent of Americans pay no tax” is a great example. These talking points work well, within the rightwing universe, no matter how misleading they are, and how thoroughly refuted by left/liberal critics. These talking points are never subjected to sharp questioning by the centrist media, nor do they need to fit into a coherent analysis. The 47 per cent line got a good run in the Republican primary campaign, and didn’t cause any trouble for Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann (they caused enough for themselves).

Things change when a point like this escapes into a general election campaign, especially when it is attached to a definite number and a definite group of people. Mitt Romney won’t tell senior citizens or low-wage workers in North Carolina that they are part of the 47 per cent he’s written off, but the Obama campaign will certainly do it for him. Romney can either stay silent and hope it all blows over or try the kind of tortured “clarification” being offered by people like Erickson.

There’s an even bigger problem arising for Romney, mentioned but not fully spelt out in this NY Times article. The fact that many working families pay no income tax is largely due to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child tax credit (doubled by George Bush). Romney has promised to fund his tax cuts for the rich by cutting exemptions and allowances. On the face of it, his remarks imply that the EITC and child tax credit are in the firing line. It’s hard to see that being sustainable, but ruling out these items is only going to intensify the problems arising from the fact that his promises don’t add up.

All of this is coming at a time when the centrist media is finally feeling the heat for its decades of “he said, she said” reporting, and when the Romney-Ryan team has been called out quite a few times for its factual inaccuracies, aka lies. The initial coverage of the 47 per cent claim seems mostly to state the facts prominently, and in the voice of the newspaper/media outlet rather than “Democrats say ….”/

Perhaps I’m being over-optimistic here, but I think Romney will find it hard to untangle this mess.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    September 27th, 2012 at 09:23 | #1

    As in Australia, the electoral choice is between the Stupid Party and the Very Stupid Party. Obama (Stupid Party) will hopefully defeat Romney (Very Stupid Party). Here, in Queensland Australia, we have seen what happens when you throw out the Stupid Party (Labor) and put in the Very Stupid Party (the conservatives). The Very Stupid Party immediately sacks about 15,000 workers in a small population state by US standards (Qld. pop. 4,560,000) thus pushing the state back towards recession. Of course, all the usual neoliberal nonsense is spruiked about austerity being expansionary.

    So, when voting, it’s a matter of taking the “least worst” option since the only big parties are Stupid and Very Stupid. The main political problem, as economist Bill Mitchell points out, is that all parties are neoliberal now. Even the Greens, who are social democratics in most regards, are neoliberal when it comes to macroeconomics and believe in balanced budgets and even surpluses when unemployment is still 5% and labour under-utilisation is more like 10%. The stupid ideology of neoliberalism is the economic platform of all parties and the main reason that they have gone stupid.

    (Apologies to Monty Python. Google Monty Python election night special.)

  2. September 27th, 2012 at 09:56 | #2

    I’m loosely with Ikonoclast, as possibly most people are. (Tweedledum & Tweedledee, etc.) but draw the line at terming the LNP stupider than the ALP (in Qld). The ALP have done much of recent years to set the bar VERY low. They are hardly the party of intellect, competent government, or sustainable policies. Enough of that, it is self-evident, and will be more obviously so – as time passes.

    “Optimistic” that Romney will find it hard to untangle the mess? Agreed he isn’t a very inspiring candidate, but wishing ill on his campaign? He’s taking enough fire as it is. We’ll know in a few weeks what the people think. (We already know what the news media think – but as is becoming more & more obvious, the worldview of the news media coterie is not necessarily shared by the wider population)

  3. Troy Prideaux
    September 27th, 2012 at 10:16 | #3

    Steve at the Pub :
    “Optimistic” that Romney will find it hard to untangle the mess? Agreed he isn’t a very inspiring candidate, but wishing ill on his campaign? He’s taking enough fire as it is. We’ll know in a few weeks what the people think. (We already know what the news media think – but as is becoming more & more obvious, the worldview of the news media coterie is not necessarily shared by the wider population)

    How much influence does the President have on the US economy anyway?

  4. September 27th, 2012 at 11:36 | #4

    @ Troy: Good point. Foreign policy is about the only area where the office of President has majority input, and isn’t pretty much totally hamstrung.

  5. ratee
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:25 | #5

    Here is not so much stupid vs very stupid. It’s spin vs outright lies. Spin is a distortion of the truth so the focus is on the hat not the magicians hands. The outright lies upon constant re-telling become myths and impervious to facts.

  6. may
    September 28th, 2012 at 13:24 | #6

    @ratee

    where are the coalition policies?

    where are the coalition costed policies?

    playing mind games about when they will be released is not good enough.

    constant misrepresentation of current fed govt as a cover for not releasing coalition costed policies does not cut the mustard.

    releasing the costed policies just before the election so what i’m supposed to be voting for cannot be properly considered is bloody rude.

  7. may
  8. may
    September 28th, 2012 at 13:52 | #8

    it worked!

    never ceases to amaze me.

  9. paul walter
    September 29th, 2012 at 14:28 | #9

    It could be that the real problem remains a perversely asshat Congress and Senate, also some of the rightist state governments.
    Unless they can clear out the irrationalist, contrarian obstructionists of the Tea Party who have already ruined the Republican party, the whole exercise will be pointless; futile.
    Even then, it won’t guarantee substantial change unless Obama is prepared to take on the chicken-hawks, Zio-lobby and Wall St a bit more than he has.

  10. Kate
    October 3rd, 2012 at 15:04 | #10

    I agree with Paul, up to a point. Shifting the obstructionists is critical and the midterm elections of 2014 will determine how Obama’s presidency is remembered. But this Presidential election is still one of the most important in American history, particularly in terms of its consequences for the GOP. Hopefully by 2014 the Tea Party will discredit themselves entirely and be forced to retreat into the South.

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