September 20, 2012
In a comment on the previous post, I describe Romney-the-politician as a seasoned stake president (literally!) who's spent (a few too many) years behind the pulpit.
Here's why. Because of the lay structure of local congregations, Mormon leaders get adept at winging it behind the pulpit, padding out worship services, filling in for missing speakers on the spur of the moment. Even I, a clinical introvert, harbor no dread of public speaking thanks to my years in church.
Unfortunately, "winging it" is antithetical to predictability and reliability, which is why, to the dismay of historians (and anti-Mormons) who feast on the often wacky sermons of yore, modern Mormon General Conference talks are heavily vetted and thoroughly teleprompted.
Romney has become overconfident winging it, and his off-the-cuff remarks prove it. As Joe says, it's hard to think deeply when speaking extemporaneously, and a common recourse is to fall back on false syllogisms. And as Dan points out, the "47 percent" number is comically imprecise to start with.
As a starving artist, I belong to the 47 percent. I haven't paid income taxes in years. But believe me, the check I cut to the IRS to cover all my other tax obligations ain't pocket change. Still, get rid of that silly number and Romney makes a valid point: "middle class" is a state of mind.
People (and corporations) who ought not to do become dependent upon government, do believe that they are victims, do believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, do believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, "to you name it."
I don't think of myself as either "poor" or "entitled" (though I'm not so principled that I'll turn away the blessings of state paternalism when push comes to shove). I'm a middle class kid undergoing a momentary financial setback (that's gone on for about a decade).
Incidentally, this is why comparing health care systems is problematic, because how much a country like Japan spends on health care depends a great deal on what its citizens expect out of health care, what they feel "entitled" to. The average Japanese feels entitled to a lot less than the average American.
It's much easier to build an affordable social safety net when it doesn't have to hold the entire population, when the average person avoids testing its strength. During its Great Recession, Japan had low unemployment rates, a product of the social stigma and meager unemployment insurance.
For this reason, my sense is, on this issue, Romney ends up being right even when he's wrong. Other that huffing and puffing commentators who live to be offended, average people who hear him say that will think: Well, that's not me, even when it is. That's why Rush Limbaugh wishes Romney said it on purpose.
Alas, he didn't. Romney, to his credit, is a pragmatist and a problem solver. He's not a man with bedrock political principles who, like Reagan, spent years honing the rhetorical skills required to defend and explain them.
He's just winging it.