As any course on formal logic would have you know a true conclusion always follows from a true premise, but, perhaps counterintuitively, a true conclusion may very well follow from a false premise. In other words, as Bertrand Russell is supposed to have said, if you start with a false premise, you can prove any conclusion. Sometimes the conclusion will be correct, even though the logic leading you to it won’t. Mitt Romney’s secret video is an example of precisely that happening. Even though his premises are palpably false the conclusions he draws from them are quite correct.
Mother Jones has presented what it says is a video of Mitt Romney talking to donors during a private fundraiser at a home of a private equity manager Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida, on May 17. In this video Mitt Romney says:
‘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.’
I’ll ignore the absurdity of a presidential candidate treating half of the citizens with disdain, although it may very well be the final nail to Mitt Romney’s political coffin. Romney’s premises presented in the video are incongruous. Firstly, as Paul Krugman rightly points out, most of the people who pay no income tax are paying other taxes, and out of the rest many are students, elderly or having lost a job, therefore they have paid taxes in the past or will be paying them in the future. Secondly, it’s absurd to say that 47 percent of people believe the government has a responsibility to care for them. In reality just about 100 percent (not counting extreme anarchists, otherwise it would have been 100 percent) believe that the government has a responsibility to care for them, in some ways: infrastructure (try finding people who’d rather roads weren’t built), economic and personal safety (Republicans are quite happy with enormous military budget) and so on. The degree to which people believe this is the case varies greatly, but the principle of national solidarity echoes in everyone to some degree.
Perhaps even more contemptible is Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy in abasing people who are not paying taxes for good reasons, such as being a student, jobless or being in the military, while, as Robert Hunziker hinted earlier this week in The Firebrand, Republicans are likely to be avoiding taxes themselves out of pure greed. It appears that in Mitt Romney’s mind it’s okay not to be paying taxes only if you’re rich (or as Republicans would put it: a job creator), which is consistent with the economic policies of the Republicans, who’d rather cut taxes for those who don’t need it.
Despite the premises of the above Mitt Romney’s statement being false and ugly, the conclusions with which he ends up are correct. Romney should not concentrate his efforts on giving in to the people who will never vote for the Republican agenda in the first place. No votes can be gained this way and he can lose his integrity (assuming he has any in the first place, which is arguable; there even exists a website promoting his versatility). So he is correct in assuming that he should concentrate on trying to persuade people who may not be happy with the state of the country and may very well be willing to associate this state with the current administration regardless of whether it’s a smart thing to do or not. That is precisely why swing states are so important and in the center of everyone’s attention during the campaign.
Mitt Romney is correct in his policy not to cater to die-hard Democrats. That’s the only policy which may lead to his becoming the President. But the video from the fundraiser released this week has showed something else, his insistence on not referring to the actual state of the world and the facts about it (perhaps being consistent in Republican history of ignoring facts; their stand on global warming and science in general presents enough evidence), and also the general hypocrisy of his views, none of which seems to bother him. Mitt Romney’s assumption that all people who receive government help will never vote for a Republican candidate is ridiculous. Plenty of these people will vote for Mitt Romney despite his trying very hard to make them vote for Obama instead. If 47 percent of the people were voting for Obama just because of this one issue then the race would be over before it’s even began. Romney does act as if he wanted it to be true, and perhaps he’ll make it true if he continues his tirades. But the race is still very much undecided. The questions is then: are Americans willing to have a man with all these qualities as their President?
This essay originally appeared in The Firebrand Magazine.