Romney’s remark, responding to a question at a May 17 private event for donors in Boca Raton, Fla., referred to the 47 percent of US voters who “pay no income tax” and “believe they are victims,” dependent on government support. “I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” These voters will vote for President Obama, “no matter what,” Romney said. Release of the secretly taped video on Sept. 17 by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, set off a firestorm, throwing the Romney campaign back on defense just as it was refocusing its message on the economy.
(At the same fundraiser, he accused Palestinians as “not wanting to see peace.”)
In a press conference, Romney said that his remarks were “not elegantly stated,” but that he stood by them. “This is ultimately a question about direction for the country,” he told reporters. “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.”
The buzz kill over the “victims” remark recalled an even more controversial gaffe: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”
Romney uttered these now-infamous words the morning after his big victory in the Florida primary on Jan. 31, setting off a furor. As is often the case, eye-popping statements like this one need to be put in context. Here’s a fuller version what he said:
"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it," the Republican front-runner said Feb. 1 on CNN. "I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling."
But who needs context when there’s a juicy line to be exploited. Ever since he said it, Democrats have been pounding on Romney for “not caring about the very poor,” perfect for the cartoon version of Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy. And adding insult to injury, some conservative Republicans are just as unhappy, because he stuck up for the safety net.
“The safety net is one of the biggest cultural problems we’ve got!” gasped conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
The Wall Street Journal editorial page wished Romney had talked about “growing dependency on government and its corrosive effect on human dignity.”