During the next 48 hours & beyond you will likely hear or read quite a few boneheaded pundits saying that the Romney Tapes are just like Barack Obama's "guns & religion" remark. Libertarian Conor Friedersdorf (here) & David Graham (here), both of the Atlantic, have already rolling out that meme. They are wrong. The comparison is facile and, well, stupid.
The similarities are obvious. Both men were running for president. Both were speaking at what they thought was a private meeting. Both were speaking to wealthy donors. Both were talking about how to persuade voters. Both said things they would have "rephrased" for general public consumption. And both were caught on tape.
But that's where the similarities end. The thrust of their remarks could not be more different.
Read what Obama said.
... the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing....
So the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American.... Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives....
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.
And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
There is a fundamental difference here. Obama is explaining, albeit in a ham-handed way, why people in these forgotten town have given up. But he does not write off the people. He is sympathetic to their plight. He gets -- or thinks he gets -- why they are cynical. Given all that, he still wants to convince them that government can help them. He wants them to feel that once again they have a stake in the American system.
Obama's view of people who are down on their luck is the exactly the opposite of Romney's attitude.
Obama wants to give these people hope. Romney writes off the very same people -- these losers who don't earn enough to pay taxes.
Obama says circumstances have beat these people down. It is exterior factors (hmm, like Bain Capital outsourcing offshoring their jobs) -- factors largely beyong these individuals' control -- that have caused small-town people to become "cynical" & to look for scapegoats & crutches. Romney, the offshoring pioneer, says these people are moochers who have failed to take "personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Obama says he wants to give these people another shot at the American dream. Romney says it's "not his job to worry about those people."
Obama wants to include these people, even knowing they may reject him. Romney has already excluded them. In their unguarded moments, Obama illuminates the Democrats' big tent, Romney illustrates Republicans disdain for ordinary Americans.
Carl Sandburg once said the ugliest word in the English language was "exclusive." Mitt Romney illustrates why.
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