Update 10:10 p.m.: Romney made an appearance on Monday night to explain his controversial speech and basically owned it. The candidate said that his calling Americans "victims" was "not elegantly stated" and that he "spoke off the cuff." Kind of like his speech at the Republican National Convention, eh?
Mitt Romney really goofed up when he stood in front of a room of wealthy donors at a campaign event and basically trash-talked the 47 percent of Americans "who pay no income tax" and "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." It certainly doesn't help that the host of the event, private equity tycoon Mark Leder, has been known to have late night naked parties in the Hamptons. But that's beside the point.
The leaked video of Romney's comments hit the web like a NASCAR driver hydroplaning on a puddle of motor oil. Romney, of course, is the driver doing his best to keep his car on the track and the puddle of motor oil, well, that's the 47 percent of Americans that Romney just ran over with his multi-million dollar stock car. Because these folks are hardly the tax-evading sacks of welfare-grubbing deadbeats Romney makes them out to be. They're the laid-off workers and struggling parents and debt-riddled college graduates that Romney's supposed to be supporting.
Understanding that a large proportion of that group did pay payroll taxes, half of that 47 percent were elderly and another third earned less than $20,000 a year. As The New York Times' Michael Cooper points out, the latter group doesn't pay income tax, in large part, thanks to the GOP-supported Earned Income Tax Credit. This is a program that was added to the tax code under President Gerald Ford and expanded under Ronald Reagan who called his tax overhaul package "one of the best anti-poverty programs this country has ever seen."
Slighting America's working poor stings Romney's campaign for a very specific reason. From the beginning, the multimillionaire has been criticized for being out of touch with every day Americans, especially those with the lowest income. This is why people like Dana Carvey assign lines like "I hate the poor and want to kill them!" to Romney.
But honestly, we don't have to turn to Saturday Night Live alums to hear Romney make brow-furrowing statements about the poor. He's perfectly capable of doing that himself. In an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien earlier this year, Romney said in no uncertain terms, "I'm not concerned about the very poor," said the candidate. "We have a safety net there, and if it needs repair, I'll fix it." O'Brien gut-checked Romney on the first part of that statement, and he emphasized his commitment to help those in need.
That's apparently not how Romney really feels. If he's willing to write off the 47 percent of people "who will vote for the president no matter what" -- the "entitled" half of voters -- Romney must not be too concerned with the struggling Americans who make up that demographic. Or if he does, he definitely doesn't want this wealthy donors to know.