Mitt Romney and his campaign know his “Let them eat donkey” remarks at a private $50,000-a-plate fundraiser back in May, exposed by Mother Jones on Monday, are damning. Go online. Anywhere. That’s no secret.
It’s also no secret that Romney doesn’t exactly understand this “47 percent of Americans are dependent wastoids who pay no taxes” figure he plucked straight from talk radio and conservative media. This particular meme has been around since Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama. Romney’s was not ‘a moment of conservative candor’ behind closed doors — it’s more parroting party line in the name of a donor wire transfer.
A cursory search of Google and Twitter shows the media reaching for a comparison, specifically then-candidate Barack Obama’s “bitter/cling” remarks at a private fundraiser in 2008. For example, see Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza’s tweet on Tuesday:
What's worse: Obama "bitter/cling" comments from '08 or Romney "47 percent" comments in '12?
— The Fix (@TheFix) September 18, 2012
Both remarks were made by wealthy politicians speaking to wealthy audiences. Both were supposed to be off the record. Both were surreptitiously captured and played endlessly across the media spectrum. But that’s where the similarities end. Let’s examine …
While the two words etched in the nation’s collective memory are bitter/cling, the full context of Obama’s remark shows him making the exact opposite point of what Romney was attempting to do in front of a room full of rich donors. Here’s Obama’s full quote that night:
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Now these are in some communities, you know, I think what you’ll find is, is that people of every background — there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you’ll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I’d be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you’re doing what you’re doing.
Bitter! Cling! Anti-immigrant! Anti-trade! Buzzwords!
Obama’s obvious, innate condescension aside, his point is that he wanted to be the president of every American. Hey, we can still win these people over. He didn’t categorize 47 percent of Americans as freeloading leeches who can be written off as Democratic Teetsuckers; he specifically said “our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress.”
• SEE ALSO: Did This Secre Romney Footage Tank His Campaign?
Now compare that to Mitt Romney’s statement:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax.
… [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Mitt Romney thinks it’s his job not to worry about these people (or at least, that’s what he tells rich Republicans). Barack Obama think it’s his job to tell gun nuts and Bible thumpers that despite their misguided views, he still wants to lead them (or at least, that’s what he tells rich Democrats).
There’s a huge difference in rhetoric. One is a message of arrogant inclusion, the other is derisive ignorance. One is sociologically questionable presidential speech, the other is so unacceptably cynical is doesn’t belong in the basement of whatever political hell we currently inhabit.
We can argue the merits of Romney’s comments all day every day for the next 49 days. Or not. But let’s at least take it on its face and not play the false equivalency game for once.
Slade Sohmer is co-founder/editor-in-chief of HyperVocal. He co-hosts “Politics Powered By Twitter” on SiriusXM’s POTUS every day, 6-7 pm and 9-10 ET. Agree or disagree: Tweet Slade @SladeHV.
• SUGGESTED: ‘The 47%: Who They Are, Where They Live, How They Vote, and Why They Matter,’ by The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson