Editorial: Romney's '47 percent'

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD
  • Updated: September 21, 2012 - 8:31 PM

Off-the-cuff mistakes tell us something about the candidates.

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Mitt Romney

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Maybe it's the candlelight and caviar.

Mitt Romney's stunningly divisive attack on those Americans he classifies as the "47 percent" immediately reminded us of then-candidate Barack Obama's spring 2008 comments in which he labeled many Americans as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion."

Both men were no doubt surprised to have been outed for off-the-cuff remarks made to supporters at private fundraisers, but such is the digital age in which we live.

Obama was asked about his 2008 gaffe Tuesday during an appearance on "Late Show" with David Letterman, and he reminded viewers that he immediately apologized.

"When you run for president you are under a microscope all the time," Obama told Letterman. "All of us make mistakes -- all of us say the wrong thing once in awhile. You know, that incident in 2008 ... I immediately said, you know, I regret this. I think it sent the wrong message to the country."

Yes, it did, especially for a politician who some viewed as elitist who was campaigning on a promise of hope for a postpartisan era in American politics.

And that brings us back to Romney, who was captured on video at a May fundraiser in Florida saying:

"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."

Sounding every bit the out-of-touch multimillionaire, Romney added that it wasn't his job to "worry about those people." If his campaign continues on its current course, that might well be true.

When he might have been in full damage-control mode Monday, Romney could bring himself to say only that his fundraiser comments were "inelegant." And on Tuesday he suggested that it would be a great time for a national debate on dependency, entitlements and Obama's support for "redistributionist" policies.

The Republican nominee seems committed to a campaign that pits classes. That's an especially dangerous path for a candidate who has yet to prove that he understands the struggles of average Americans.

We'd like to give candidates some leeway for unguarded comments. The president is correct: Mistakes are understandable during difficult campaigns. But the magnitude of the mistakes candidates make -- and how they react to those missteps -- tells us something about the values of those who ask for the job of "worrying about" not just voters who see the world as they do, but all Americans.

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