By Bill Wilson — Mitt Romney is not backing away from comments he made at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida fundraiser, captured on video, that Barack Obama's base consists of half of Americans who do not pay income taxes, "who believe that they are victims," and are "reliant on government."
That is good. He shouldn't back away, because this is a discussion worth having.
At a Sept. 17 press conference, Romney reiterated that "I recognize that among those that pay no tax, approximately 47 percent of Americans, I'm not likely to be highly successful with the message of lowering taxes. That's not as attractive to those who don't pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government. And so I then focus on those individuals who I believe are most likely to be able to be pulled into my camp."
At the May fundraiser, Romney had suggested that Republicans' "message of low taxes doesn't connect" with those who pay no income tax, and that his job was "not to worry about those people" politically. Because, he said, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
This is actually a pretty astute political analysis of likely voter trends based on income.
But there's more to it than that. On a more basic level, Romney is telling the truth about the state of dependency in the U.S., and is calling attention to the perverse incentives politically that are created when government assistance becomes a way of life for millions of Americans.
At the same time, Romney was wrong to imply that those same people do not or would not want to escape that web of dependency, that those who are unemployed or poor are so by choice. Therefore, that those stuck on welfare choose to stay there.
Sensing the missed opportunity to connect with those presently struggling in this economy, Romney clarified at his press conference that his "campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again" and that he wants "to help all Americans have a bright and prosperous future".
He added, "Particularly for those who don't have work, this whole campaign is focused on getting people jobs again". This is exactly what he needs to be saying.
After all, which is more helpful to most Americans: a real job and the chance for social mobility, or a meager government check that will not save their homes?
Here, Romney is taking the opportunity to pivot his message to how he plans to help all Americans, even ones who are not planning to vote for him, all the while sticking to the original premise of his message that Barack Obama's campaign is a direct albeit misguided appeal to government dependents.
He even framed the debate as a mutually exclusive choice for voters: "Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits, or do you believe instead in a free enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?"
Here, Romney is explaining a basic economic truth, that the more dependent an individual becomes on government welfare, the less likely they are to be able to advance in society and improve his or her standard of living.
This is a very stark contrast, and it is worth expounding upon.
At this stage, Romney has little choice but to make that his message. He cannot run away from what he said. Instead, he must fully embrace it.
Even if he did not originally believe that any headway could be made with those stuck on government assistance, the proper response now is to talk to those voters anyway, to remind them of the strings that come attached to government promises of benefits. To emphasize that all Americans are better off when they can take care of themselves.
And that his plan to unleash the economy is the only one that will allow that to happen. Because, we cannot all work for the government or depend on government assistance.
This video may, in the end, be a blessing in disguise for Romney. But only if he quickly takes advantage of the opportunity it has created for him to explain why government dependency is destroying America.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.