The Obama campaign is pouncing on Mitt Romney’s recorded remarks about the 47 percent of the public whom he views as politically unreachable. The campaign released a Web video today in which Romney’s words are replayed to people on the street. “Sickening,” one person says. Watch for ads to follow.
Yet the White House also is being asked about President Barack Obama’s own remarks about an alienated electorate in the last campaign.
“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama, then running for president, said at a private campaign fund-raiser in San Francisco on April 6, 2008.
“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter,” Obama said, “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.”
Romney, running for president in 2012, said at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida on May 17:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what… There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them,” with Romney adding that they “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it.”
“These are people who pay no income taxes — 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. Our message of lower taxes doesn’t connect,” Romney said. “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them.”
Is there any difference between the two candidates’s remarks — uttered behind closed doors, unplugged, they believed — and interpreted in some quarters as writing off entire segments of the electorate? That’s how the Obama campaign is interpreting Romney’s remarks. And that’s how Obama’s then-Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, characterized his remarks.
The White House addressed the question today.
“ Then-Senator Obama never said that he did not worry about or would not worry about 47 percent of the population,” White House press secretary Jay Carney replied at a press briefing.
“What the president said four years ago, what he said eight years ago, what he says today and what he said ever since he took office here is that he’s fighting for every American, that he firmly believes that as a nation we’re all in this together, that what unites us is far stronger and greater than what divides us, that we’re not red America and blue America, we’re the United States of America,” Carney said.
Clinton, challenging Obama for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, criticized his later-reported comments from his private fundraiser as “elitist” and “divisive.”
“That’s not my experience,” Clinton told a crowd of several hundred at Drexel University that year. “As I travel around Pennsylvania, I meet people who are resilient, who are optimistic, who are positive . . . They’re working hard every day for a better future for themselves and their children. Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them.”
Clinton campaigned with this theme in her father’s boyhood town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and she carried the state in its party primary election, beating Obama by 10 percentage points.
They were politically powerful words in that campaign, and they’ll probably be powerful in this one.
The Obama campaign is counting on making them so: