In his startling denigration of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal tax income, Mitt Romney has made stunningly clear how out of touch he is with the broad middle class of ordinary Americans, how bluntly he would dismiss so many of them, and how little he cares about people who haven't saved enough money to retire comfortably, and who never will. He would just write them off.
In a secretly taped recording of his hour-long address to an elite audience at a $50,000-a-ticket fundraiser in May, Romney quite smugly said: "There are 47 percent of Americans who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the 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. These are people who pay no (federal) income tax.
"... So my job is not to worry about these people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney clearly doesn't who he's talking about. According to the Tax Policy Center, fully two-thirds of the people whose income is so low that they don't have to pay federal incomes taxes -- or get an earned income tax credit -- still pay payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. They and many others in the 47 percent disdained by Romney also pay state sales taxes, property taxes, gasoline taxes and in some cases, state income taxes.
The largest segment -- about 6 out of 10 in the 47 percent of Americans that Romney dismisses -- are in households with relatively low incomes, but still above the poverty level. Working Americans in this group pay payroll taxes and state taxes, especially sales taxes, and their share of the rent if they aren't paying a mortgage. Many of these taxpayers, as well, earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford health insurance, so they are forced to go without regular medical care.
Another large segment of the 47 percent are retired people who get by on meager Social Security checks and Medicare; both are earned entitlements. Most of these are older white people with a high school education who worked all their lives, educated their kids, may have served in the military, and firmly believe in paying their way. They don't view themselves as "victims" who depend on government help they didn't earn.
Among others in the 47 percent are college students, children and disabled people. But Romney apparently isn't interested in learning the demographics, contributions of needs of this 47 percent of Americans.
The irony is that Romney, a megamillionaire who has parked money in at least six foreign tax havens and who still won't release his own income tax records as every presidential nominee has the past 40-plus years, pays just 13 percent in federal income taxes. That's a smaller percentage than most middle-class Americans pay.
His derogation of nearly half of Americans for earning so little speaks volumes about his misconception of middle America. It shows his lack of concern for the hollowing out of the middle class by the vast offshoring of jobs, and the consequent rise in low-incomes, joblessness and poverty. Romney's perception of these people could not be more wrong.
Many retired people and poorer working families may be scraping by on a fixed income, but they still proudly believe in the American dream, the values of self-worth, independence, shared caring for the needy, and the provision of a safety net.
Ironically, 10 of the 11 the states with the highest percentage of Americans in the 47 percent that Romney so caustically dismisses, are in the solid red (Republican majority) Southern states, including Tennessee. Yet Romney says that he doesn't care about a huge number of families in the states most likely to support him. Indeed, the fiscal plan he has laid out would cut taxes more for the nation's richest Americans, and either cut the safety net programs (including Social Security and Medicare) that the middle class does rely on, or raise taxes on the middle-to-upper middle class an average of $2,000 to keep financing the safety net.
What he didn't say about non-taxpayers is how many rich multimillionaires -- 7,000 last year -- paid no federal income taxes, or how many rich corporations pay little to zero federal taxes. General Electric, for example, earned $14.2 billion in 2010, but paid no federal taxes. That's not unusual. The federal Office of Management and Budget reported that corporate income taxes accounted for just 1.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product last year, barely a fourth of what it paid in 50 years ago. Talk about tax avoidance.
Romney wasn't about to mention the high-income non-taxpayers to his rich audience of campaign donors. He was content to scapegoat less affluent Americans to earn his audience's campaign largesse. It's hard to go lower than that.