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romney-47On May 17, 2012 Romney was speaking in a Republican fundraiser at the home of a private equity executive in Boca Raton, Florida. A couple of months before the presidential election, a video of the event was released by Mother Jones magazine. In the video, at home with his fellow millionaires and striking a core conservative chord, Romney could be seen delivering his account on how Obama supporters – 47 per cent of the electorate were used to living off handouts. He said, “no matter what” he did these people, “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” were with Obama, and they would vote for him. “These people” did not pay income tax, he added.

Romney’s tone had not-so-concealed contempt towards the “47 percent” and the “entitlements” they received.  They believed these folks indeed were moochers subsisting on aids. In the words of a ring-wing blogger, they “are completely dependent on programs created mostly by Democrats to ensure a voting base. … There are generations past, present and future [that] have never worked, do not work now and have no intension of ever working no matter what employment opportunities may exist”. David Corn, the reporter who published the video viewed it as a Republican battle between “strivers” – the affluent taxpayers and lazy “parasitic free-riders.”

The storyline of spar between the nation’s ‘givers’ and ‘takers’ appeared to have a modest genesis: last year 76 million people – about 46 percent of the people who filed taxes, did not pay income taxes. These are the 47 or 46 percent of Americans that Romney said he gave up on winning over?

Nearly half of them were simply too poor, and did not pay fed tax because standard deductions and other exemptions would erase their liabilities. The other half – low-income working households and old people just utilized the tax credit and other provisions. True, these families did not pay fed tax; but they did actually pay every other ones in the book – payroll taxes, sales taxes, state and local taxes, etc.

mitt-romney-binder-of-womenMost of the income of millionaire like Romney, through ambiguities in the tax code, was deemed capital gains on which they did not have to pay payroll tax.  In reality, the wealthy and corporations get much more from the government than people on welfare – those receiving food stamps, college tuition loans, medicaid, social security, etc. General Electric, America’s largest corporation, paid no taxes last year.  Then who is the scrounger? What this finally comes down to: if you are poor, you are a moocher; if you are rich, you are a job creator.

The Republican presidential candidate said something that was demonstrably untrue and hateful. He evidently did not have any idea what the half of the Americans, in financial ruins, were going through in this depressing time, and more importantly, he did not care.

The Republican support base was cantered on mostly white, older and richer men. Anchored in the past and culturally less flexible, they could not deal with the speed of the changing American society – felt anxious, fearful, and often hateful. They refused to represent the whole of America. Instead, they took a drastic exclusionary line and decided even to “go rouge” as Sarah Palin had advised.

Responding to the Mother Jones video, Romney reckoned – Obama had already got 47- 49 percent votes locked in; and he just wanted to exert a pull on 51 or 50.1 percent Americans needed to become the next President. Though “not elegantly stated,” he added, “it’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry.”

They adopted this approach way before the 47% episode, when Romney during the Republican primaries declared that he would preferred “self-deportation” of the immigrants. His message was: cut them off the benefits and the jobs and they would leave, thereby signalling his perspective on the Latinos and the minorities at large.

If this was not enough, Romney came up with his “binders full of women” remark. During the second presidential debate, answering to an audience question about how he would “rectify the inequalities in the workplace”, Romney swerved off course. In his pivoted reply, recalling when he assumed office as Massachusetts governor, he said, “I had the chance to pull together a Cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men.” He continued, “I went to a number of women’s group and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women”.  An instant punch line – the “binders” became a “meme” on the internet. It sent the social networks abuzz. On Twitter, it produced the likes of @Romneybinders, @womaninabinder. The Facebook page of “bindersfullof women” had about 300,000 “likes” in just 12 hours. Even the Amazon.com was brought into the fun – its pages selling three-ring binders were spammed with teasing reviews like: “while it is a lovely, multi-purpose binder, it does not come with women”.

putting-the-47-percent-into-perspective_505a836045cb6Jokes aside, in all fairness – “binders” could have been taken as a slip of tongue had it not been used to spin around the women’s equality question. He managed to bypass the real issue all right; but his fateful phrasing conveyed folders full of answers. It revealed Romney’s comfort level on women’s equality, and on economic issues that women face over all. Even as a slip, women thought he reduced them to a collection in binders.

The debate further underscored Republican dissension with the women when Romney could not answer a question about banning guns without citing the single mother issue. Single motherhood, regardless of how the women got there, was simply at odds with their faith. Perhaps, that prompted his tying children raised by single mothers with the “culture of violence.”

Wait, the Republican noisy misogyny was not over yet. The twin believers had their own freak shows on women’s reproductive rights. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, in a bizarre narrative noted, “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock joined in saying, “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”

And they had had enough of these “Take Back America” bullyboys. They decided – they would confront. Determined, in the grand arena on November 6, they had their “Future Face of America” show. Combined, the “47%” and the “binders” formed the core of Obama’s rainbow coalition of alienated Non-Whites and progressive Whites. In more statistically amenable breakdowns, this colourful alliance consisted of minorities – African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Jews, and others; young people, women, and less affluent voters.  According to Pew exit poll, the minority groups, which cast 28% of the total, gave Obama 4/5th of their votes. The Obama to Romney exit poll data for African-American and Latinos were 93%-6% and 71%-27%; that for Asians and Jews were 73%-26% and 69%-30%. The young people under 30 cast 60%-37% in favour of Obama with White young voting 44% – 6% more than their older folks. For women it was 53%-40% against Romney of the total electorate; while among Whites, the women voted 42% for Obama – again 7% more than their male counterparts. Among less affluent voters having income under 50 K: Obama vs. Romney was 60%-38%.

Together they put the measures over the top with 50.86% vs. 47.43%, and snatched an impressive victory for Obama, the first president since World War II to win a second term amidst high unemployment and distressed economy. Though Romney covered more of American landmass wining the vast rural country, Obama outpolled him by his sway in the urban areas heavily populated by minorities.

Look, the face of American is changing. Data released earlier this year showed that minority births were more than half of the total for the first time. It will be just 18 more years before these new Americans grow to be old enough to vote. According to projection by Pew, Whites which currently make up 63% of the population will become 47% by 2050; liberal estimates put the timing a full decade earlier. While African-American population will remain almost unchanged, most of the growth in the minority populations will come from Latinos and Asians – driven births rather than immigration. Side by side, birth to mother in the aging White population will decline.

“This is very powerful demographic that’s changing our politics and destiny,” Paul Taylor of the Pew Research said. From now on, in each election cycle the number of minority electorates is going to grow a few points.  The reality has already been sinking in with the GOP since its disastrous routing. Acknowledging the inevitability, after the election Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union told the Politico, “Our party needs to realize it’s too old, too white and too male, and it needs to figure out how to catch up with demographics of the country before it’s too late.”

Mushfique Ahmed is a professor of Department of Geology and Mining, University of Rajshahi.

2 Responses to “The “47 percent” and “binders full of women” for new America”

  1. Golam Arshad

    Professor: Great piece ! Republican Party must unlock from right modulated extreme view. If not, the Party will be marginalized. The moderates within the Party flank, are dismayed and dislodged, minorities are not being absorbed or being outreached, winning nation wide Polls like the Presidential election, will be a hard call. In 2016 Republican Party will face this TEST of survival! Good job!

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