Matt Welch On The 47% Trope

Ken AshfordElection 2012Leave a Comment

Everybody is weighing in, but I wanted to highlight this from, a libertarian site:

Most people at some point will be part of the 47 percent (indeed, nearly most already are). When my friends and I were comparatively poor, as people often are in their 20s and early 30s, we (for the most part) didn't "believe" that we were "victims," didn't "believe the government has a responsibility" to care for us, and didn't vote for Democratic political candidates "no matter what." We mostly took personal responsibility and care for our lives, and acted according to our idiosyncratic individual values and whims.

I should theoretically be the target audience for this stuff. I never took out a federally guaranteed student loan, never enjoyed the mortgage-interest deduction; I worry all the time about government spending and entitlements, and I am not unfamiliar with the looter/moocher formulation. But this kind of reductionism does not reflect individualism (as David Brooks charges), itrejects individualism, by insisting that income tax is destiny. It judges U.S. residents not as humans but as productive (or unproductive) units. (Though as long as people are thinking that way, is there any category of resident less taker-y than illegal immigrants with fake Social Security cards who file income taxes?) And it prematurely valorizes one class of government-gobbling Americans while prematurely writing off another.

There are to my mind many more important things to consider in this presidential race than Mitt Romney's reductive parroting of plausible-but-wrong GOP tropes. But the reason this controversy will have legs is ultimately because many Republicans think Romney's comments were just fine. They are about to learn what the rest of the country thinks about that.

And this is where the cleave exists between libertarianism and conservatism.  Both political philosophies espouse a smaller government, and that's why they tend to be bedfellows when it comes to candidates for election.

But this is the first time where a rift develops, for indeed, conservatism is far more uglier than libertarianism.  Conservatists not only despise government, but they despise the people who — from time to time — rely on government. 

Maybe there is a conversation to be had about the so-called "culture of dependency".  But Romney's reductive characterization of the political landscape indicates he doesn't understand any of this.