In the wake of the biggest political gaffe in recent memory (“gaffe” isn’t even the correct word here, since Romney said precisely what he meant to say to that $50,000/plate audience), we have been eagerly awaiting the Republicans’ response to the crisis. And indeed, Romney has followed each step of the Politicians’ Crisis Management Handbook:
Step 1.) Claim the comments were taken out of context. Wait… Mother Jones released the full, unedited video? Dammit! Okay, abandon that strategy and move on to step two.
Step 2.) Claim your remarks are consistent with your world view but concede that they were inelegantly phrased. If Stephen Colbert mercilessly mocks this line of defense, move swiftly to step three.
Step 3.) Find a similar incident in your opponent’s history in order to divert the media’s attention away from your own damaging remarks. What’s that? You can’t find any comments from your opponent that are even remotely similar? Don’t worry!! Just pull, like, one word from some speech he gave 14 years ago and try to dance the old false equivalence jig on Fox News.
Ding ding ding!! And that’s exactly the strategy the Republicans have landed upon. In a remarkable coincidence of timing, the Romney campaign “leaked” a “secret” audio in which super-socialist Barack Obama said he hates all the hard-working rich people and wants to give their money away to lazy welfare recipients. Oh wait, no, that’s just the imaginary audio that Republicans are pretending they found. What they actually found was an audio tape from 1998 in which Obama explained that the government needed to find a way to prevent wasteful spending while at the same time redistributing resources so that all people have a fair opportunity to succeeed:
There has been a systematic — I don’t think it’s too strong to call it a ‘propaganda campaign’ against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. The Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making, and neither necessarily has been the Chicago Public Schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking what are the delivery systems that are effective and meet people where they live…
I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody’s got a shot.”
That sounds… perfectly reasonable? And consistent with what Barack Obama has been saying all along? No matter. Republicans have simply picked out a single word — “redistribution” — and are now pretending that the 1998 audio is just as damning as Mitt Romney’s truly remarkable disdain for 47% of the American population (double-disdain if you happen to be Latino as well). Mitt Romney quickly issued a statement to Fox News:
We have two very different views about America. The president’s view is one of a larger government. There’s a tape just came out today with the president saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.
Naturally, Fox News and other conservative media have been quick to draw comparisons. Even the Los Angeles Times is now actually asking the question: Is the “redistribution” audio Obama’s own 47%?
Spoiler alert: The answer is no. Definitely, unequivocally no.
Mitt Romney said that the people who do not pay federal income taxes (but do, for the most part, pay state taxes and federal witholding) see themselves as hopelessly entitled “victims” who are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves — people such as military personnel, the elderly, and the working poor. He stated that he is giving up on ever getting the vote of 47% of the American public not because these people disagree with him on policy, but because there is something fundamentally wrong with them as human beings. Barack Obama said he wants to facilitate a limited amount of redistribution to allow everyone the opportunity to succeed, which is something that nearly every government in the world does to some extent, including the United States government under the Republicans’ own leadership through the Earned Income Tax Credit, among other measures. So no, these two statements are not even remotely equivalent, no matter how many times Republicans mention them in the same breath.