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Carney: Romney gets it all wrong on government dependency

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Photo - Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Atlanta, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Atlanta, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

By tagging 47 percent of America as irresponsible, Obama-supporting government dependents, Romney showed again that his politics are grounded in false liberal premises.

Romney's statement at a closed-door fundraiser reflected the mistaken liberal view that the growth of government mostly redistributes wealth downward -- it doesn't. He also implicitly bought into the Left's narrow view that both tax cuts and welfare programs mostly benefit the immediate recipients. Finally, Romney conflated tax cuts with government aid, reflecting the perverse mindset that all wealth originally belongs to the state.

Romney was correct that a portion of America backs President Obama because they "are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are entitled." We even know these dependents' names: Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, General Electric boss Jeff Immelt, Pfizer lobbying chief Sally Sussman, Solyndra investor George Kaiser and millionaire lobbyist Tony Podesta, to list a few.

In the last few years of bailouts, stimulus, Obamacare and government expansion in general, we have seen median income fall and corporate profits soar. Industries are consolidating as the big get bigger while the little guys shut down.

When government controls more money, those with the best lobbyists pocket most of it. The five largest banks hold a share of U.S. assets 30 percent larger today than in 2006. Also, as Obama has expanded export subsidies, 75 percent of the Export-Import Bank's loan-guarantee dollars in the past three years have subsidized Boeing sales.

Romney, however, wasn't talking about corporate welfare queens. He was talking about the 47 percent of the population that pays no federal income tax.

Think about Romney's perverse logic here: He disparaged people as "dependent" for not owing income taxes. Many of these people are retired and living off the life savings they earned. A family of four earning $40,000 could owe zero federal income tax even without tax credits.

Keeping your own money isn't being "dependent on government." Sure, Obama speaks as if it were, lambasting the GOP for "giving" tax cuts to the wrong people. But Republicans are supposed to distinguish between government giving you something and government leaving you alone.

But even if Romney were talking about recipients of actual government aid, he shouldn't assume, along with the Left, that they are willing wards of the state.

Many recipients of government aid don't like it. Even if they don't turn down free money, they don't like it being offered. The Tea Partier taking federal payments is like Warren Buffett calling for a tax hike -- call them hypocrites if you like, but also consider they that they might just hold a view of what's right that isn't directly tied to their short-term financial interests.

Also, the very government program "helping" Americans is often the one that creates their "need" in the first place. Farm subsidies can drive down crop prices, housing subsidies drive up home prices. Government makes it harder to get by on your own, and then offers to help you out -- and you're supposed to feel grateful?

If we "didn't build that," it might be because government wouldn't let us.

The safety net is supposed keep you from hitting rock bottom. As entitlements and handouts are expanded to the middle class and above, the net becomes more of a web, ensnaring those who would otherwise be self-sufficient.

Many conservatives understand this. As the editorial in Wednesday's Washington Examiner pointed out, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan gets it. Through the growth of the welfare state, Ryan wrote in his 2010 Roadmap for America's Future, "government increasingly dictates how Americans live their lives; they are not only wards of the state, but also its subjects."

Rick Santorum also gets it. The January night he tied Romney in Iowa, Santorum spoke of the working class, warning that Obama "wants to make them dependent rather than valuing their work."

But Romney has never gotten it. That same night in Iowa, Romney inveighed against the "entitlement society." Just as many liberals think all people receiving government aid need it and can't make it on their own, Romney thinks they all have abdicated responsibility.

Finally, does Romney also believe tax cuts benefit only those whose taxes are being cut? Does he not really think lower tax rates help the whole economy? Does a rising tide no longer lift all boats? Or maybe Romney just thinks he can't convince people that it does.

The cause of economic liberty deserves a better apostle than Mitt Romney -- ideally one who actually believes it.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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