Mr. Romney’s Profound Misapprehension

            A veritable legion of pundits, journalists, party leaders and elected officials has been parsing the results of the nation’s recent presidential election for what they mean for the future of the country’s governance and electoral process. These observers have offered a potpourri of explanations for President Obama’s victory, from demographic shifts in America’s population to “better organization” on the incumbent’s part, to the fact that many more Americans held former President George W. Bush accountable for the nation’s economic challenges than held the President responsible for that situation. And now, the GOP candidate Mitt Romney has weighed in with his explanation for the President’s victory and it was little short of astonishing. On November 14th, the New York Times reported that Romney had informed his major donors in a conference call that he had lost because President Obama had showered “gifts” on portions of the electorate and these had responded by voting for him. It is worth quoting the article directly to capture the tone of the governor’s remarks concerning specific groups that voted disproportionately for Barack Obama:

‘With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift, Mr. Romney said. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.’

            The president's healthcare plan, he said, was also a useful tool in mobilizing black and Hispanic voters. Though Mr. Romney won the white vote with 59 percent, according to exit polls, minorities coalesced around the president in overwhelming numbers: 93 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hispanics.

‘You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you're now going to get free healthcare, particularly if you don't have it, getting free healthcare worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity - I mean, this is huge,’ Mr. Romney said. ‘Likewise with Hispanic voters, free healthcare was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.’

            In Romney’s view, apparently, those voting for the incumbent did not differ with the Republican candidate for the stances he had taken on the issues he named, in combination with other concerns. Instead these individuals only responded to being provided pork barrel gifts and Obama had gained their votes via that transaction. This view completely misconstrues reality, dismisses and condescends to those whose votes the former business executive had not garnered and smacks of Romney’s previous “47% dependent population” remarks. The former governor appears genuinely to believe that those who did not support him did not do so only because the government was offering them supposed largesse. Empirically, this stance misses the fact that voters rarely cast ballots on one issue alone, that the health care access law has not been fully implemented and that the immigration action he references affected a relatively small swathe of the population. Moreover regarding the “Dream Act kids” specifically, Romney assumed that for those families it did affect, it was the only reason they might have voted for Barack Obama.

            More deeply, the losing presidential candidate apparently views health care and immigration as the equivalent of government contracts for bridge construction. They are not, nor are differing views concerning how best to provide health care, for example, to be decided solely on the basis of which targeted group receives care. What has been at issue concerning this matter is how to offer health insurance to the more than 40 million Americans (and growing) without access to care in the first instance. One has to stretch truth even to imagine this concern as a pork barrel quid pro quo. Mr. Romney appears to lack any genuine sense of the American people as a commonweal and their regime as the supreme instrument of their collective sovereignty to govern themselves. America is not one nation of “producers” and another of “dependent takers” and had he been elected president he would not have been responsible only to the supposed “producers,” but to the entire nation. Perhaps it is kindest to conclude that Romney simply and elementally does not understand the purposes of democratic governance or the populace he so desired to lead.