One can never tell who is really winning an election until the votes are tallied. But right now, Mitt Romney is losing. After the expected convention bounce in his poll numbers failed to appear, and President Obama got his after the Democratic turn a week later, it’s been nothing but bad news for Romney. His party’s message is failing to resonate with independent voters. More of them trust Obama and the Democrats on the economy and on entitlements. In the midst of an ongoing crisis in Libya, in which four American foreign service members lost their lives, his campaign politicized the moment with false accusations about administration actions and was roundly panned by just about everyone. People within his own party are now saying on the record that Romney will say anything to win the presidency — that he is emanating an unseemly desire for the job that voters tend to pick up on and reject. He is increasingly seen as out of touch with common Americans. And now this:
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…And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
These words, spoken by Romney, come from video that was surreptitiously taken at a Romney fundraiser, and leaked to Mother Jones magazine. It’s a rare moment, from a place where Romney and others thought there would be no cameras, of candid conservative discourse on just how the right regards half the electorate.
These are the stakes. The Republican Party, the party of conservatives, has always had to hide their message to a certain extent from the American public, because that message is so abhorrent. Being a success is a sign of moral fortitude. Therefore, being unsuccessful is a sign of moral weakness. Those with weak morals deserve no help. Successful people succeeded despite the restrictions placed on success by the state, and got there on their own, with no help from the nation’s infrastructure, its courts, its laws, its protections, etc.
Those who don’t vote Republican show the same moral failings as those who are poor, who fail to succeed. How else to explain how these people could continue to support a party that emphasizes empathy, that believes there are disadvantages that cannot be overcome alone, that believes in order to bring the best out of the people of this country, a system must be in place to create opportunity for all, and ease the burden on those who fall?
One of the great lies from the right has been that Democrats — progressives and liberals — believe that everything should be just handed to people. They claim that the left believes that government wants people to not work, not contribute, to just cash checks. This is bullshit. What liberals want is a government that steps in with help when things go awry. No one should ever have to worry about medical care bankrupting them or starving because they’re out of work.
Liberals want investment in infrastructure so commerce and people continue to flow unimpeded and safely. They want investment in education to ensure that future generations can continue to compete with the economies of the world. They want people to succeed and to know that no matter their origins, they will have a shot at the American dream.
Liberals want regulation of finance to prevent greed and ethical malfeasance from creating manmade economic disasters. They want strong environmental regulations to prevent industry from turning the soil, air, and water of the nation into poison. They want to be assured that the foods we eat and the drugs we take are safe.
These are only some of the things liberals care about. In short, liberalism is a rejection of cutthroat individualism. Liberals believe that society can be measured by the way it treats its lowliest citizens, and the best way to make the country better is to do everything in our power to give everyone the opportunities to succeed. It’s up to the people to grab it. There’s nothing in liberalism which says there is no struggle, no effort required, or that in order for it to work, we must all be subservient to the state. Rather, liberalism is the best expression yet of a political ideology of freedom, and the realization that there are costs that all of us must bear together to ensure that we live in a country that stays free and prosperous.
But encapsulated above in Romney’s quote is how conservatives feel about liberalism, and how their candidate, at least, feels about half the country. In their world, only the strong deserve to survive, and they get to step on everyone else. I find it no surprise at all that their ideology could misunderstand liberalism to mean individuals getting over on society at people’s expense. To conservatives, that’s the only real way to win.