The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Romney '47%' talk stirs up bourgeois debate over role of government
Remarks by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made at a fundraiser in May recently went viral in the press, drawing attention to the challenge he has in concealing his bourgeois contempt for working people and fueling the debate between the two bosses' parties on the role of government.

Like his Democratic rival Barack Obama, Romney is learning the hard way not to say what he thinks about those he is asking to vote for him.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for [Obama] no matter what," Romney told participants at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., May 17 that was first disclosed by Mother Jones Sept. 17.

This 47 percent, according to Romney, "are people who pay no income tax" and are therefore deaf to his platform. They are people, he said, "who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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. … And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Obama similarly let his guard down more than once before he started working harder on subduing his anti-working-class disdain. Speaking to supporters at a home in San Francisco's exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood during his 2008 campaign for president, for example, Obama frankly expressed his view of workers in the small Pennsylvania towns where he had just been campaigning, and in "a lot of small towns in the Midwest."

Job opportunities for workers in these areas have been falling, said Obama. "And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

While Democrats seized on the opportunity to score points against Romney, his remarks—which he later characterized as "inelegant"—were also received with widespread criticism from conservative commentators.

Many pointed out the fallacy in his contention: A large majority of those who don't pay federal taxes do pay substantial payroll taxes. Of those who pay neither, most are elderly and retired. The remainder, about 7 percent of the population, have annual incomes below $20,000. Given that reality, they said, it's not a good idea to disparage a huge cross-section of society, a substantial portion of whom in fact represent your base of support.

"Surely a man as smart as the former CEO of Bain Capital can give a better speech on taxes and dependency than he delivered at the fundraiser," wrote the Wall Street Journal. "If he can't he'll lose, and he'll deserve to." Lesson: Ditch the country club talk when you're running for office.

In an opinion column in the Sept. 19 Washington Post titled "Romney's Drift from the True Heart of Conservatism," Henry Olsen of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out that it was conservatives who "created the child tax credit in 1997 and expanded it in 2001 to reduce the tax burdens" for those on low incomes.

Debate on 'entitlements'
The media frenzy around Romney's remarks fed into the debate within bourgeois politics on the role of government, so-called entitlements, and how fast to slash government expenses on social programs. Romney sought to re-cast and defend his remarks shortly after they went public by focusing on this debate: "The president's view is one of larger government; I disagree," he said in a Sept. 18 interview on Fox News. "I think a society based on a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America."

U.S. government expenses have been rising for many decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. A deficit in the capitalists' government budget has mushroomed as a result of their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, growing interest payments on the national debt, and the impact of the worldwide capitalist crisis. Today, both candidates are pledging to rein in this deficit and present this as a problem that all citizens must accept—one that requires "shared sacrifices."

In seeking support for his pledge to do more than his Democratic rival to cut government expenses and simultaneously reduce taxes, Romney demagogically appeals to workers who rightly oppose the increasing intrusion of government in their lives and are adverse to feeling dependent on it. And conservative politicians hope to gain a hearing from workers who are becoming more distrustful of a government that is continually chipping away at constitutional protections—a bipartisan course that neither candidate speaks a word about.

Dependency on gov't bureaucracies
On the other hand, there's the left liberal view characteristic of the self-styled "enlightened meritocracy" of which Obama is a leading spokesperson. Lurking behind their feigned empathy for the impact of the capitalist crisis on our lives is a combination of disdain and fear. They seek to breed and reinforce attitudes of dependency on government bureaucracies and their patronage peddlers. And under current economic conditions and the absence of mass social struggles, many workers find themselves susceptible to this trap as well.

In this view the government is not the state power to manage the affairs of the capitalist rulers, but your "community." This notion was succinctly presented at the Democratic Party Convention by Rep. Barney Frank. He said, "There are things that a civilized society needs that we can only do when we do them together, and when we do them together that's called government."

Social wages such as unemployment compensation and welfare were won through working-class struggles and represent the recapturing of a small portion of the social wealth the working class alone creates. The promotion of "entitlements" as a gift from the government for which we are supposed to be grateful, on the other hand, represents an attempt to turn these gains into their opposite.

The premise behind the traditional conservative view, however, is that social problems can and should be solved by individual initiative and at the family and community level, with minimal government interference.

The latter part of this—with minimal government interference—is an outlook shared by communists, consistent with the views put forward by Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Vladimir Lenin. This stands in stark contrast to benevolent big government visions of liberals, petty-bourgeois left radicals and Stalinists.

Our greatest social problems are created and reproduced by social relations under capitalism. Only with the working class in political power can the creative initiatives and energies of working people at the most basic level—local, neighborhood and community—be unleashed and social problems confronted and solved by the toilers themselves. This is what the experiences of socialist revolutions in Russia and Cuba show.

The function of a revolutionary government of the toilers is to maintain the political power of the working class and to wither away as the threat of capitalist restoration recedes. The socialist society will have no need for cops and prison guards, lawyers and bureaucrats. Teachers and doctors will perform their social services in the neighborhoods where they live with other workers of all kinds.

Many commentators, liberal and conservative, predicted Romney's comments would result in plummeting support at the polls. But so far there is little evidence of any major impact and the race remains close. Perhaps workers were not so shocked or surprised. Maybe instead of changing their vote, more will simply stay home.

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