Romney imploding or simply sharing unpopular truths?

Sep 19, 2012

It is unclear how Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's remarks in a video from a campaign fundraiser will affect his campaign.

Should comments not intended for public consumption play a role in our assessment of the candidate who made them?

What about their public responses once their original comments are made public?

And in terms of what was said at the fundraiser, is there a difference between a "victim", the term used by Romney, and a needy person?

Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic.

Submit questions and opinions for Brad to respond to now.

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No matter how much he and the campaign defend Gov. Romney's words at a FL fund raising event, it's hard not to see it as a moment when the candidate put not one, both both feet in his own mouth.  And you know what?  It's hard to run a race if your feet are not on the ground! 


Of course, it's not clear how Romney's remarks are not very much like President Obama's comments at a San Francisco fund raising event for years ago -- the one at which he described small town Americans clinging bitterly to guns and religion.


But should any of these comments matter?  Are they reliable barometers of what the candidates believe?  And what about the fact that they were captured without permission? 


Let's go!

This video allowed people to see the emperor without his clothes. We live in a time when you unfortunately need to live as if you are being photographed or taped when you are running for president. Once comments are made like the ones he made he should acknowledge what was said and be honest about who he is, he might win some points in being true to whom he is.

I appreciate the metaphor, but taken seriously, shouldn't we all appreciate that seeing people naked is not necessarily either appropriate or the best way to judge them?


Personally, I found Gov. Romney's comments to be a mix of deeply disturbing, misguided if not false, and also partially true and reflective of serious challenges we face as a nation.


I think that the only way to gain some advantage here would be to admit all of the above.  He certainly can and should stand by his claim that there are genuine differences in how he and the president understand the role of gov't and it's job.  But it seems to me that he also needs to address what seems like rank insensitivity.

For a wealthy, educated businessman and career politician, he sure can put his foot in his mouth. Mitt's 47% comments remind me of an out-of-touch George Bush (I) campaigning in a grocery store and being amazed by the scanners.

GB the first demonstrated a lack of awareness about technology in shopping.  Although some tried to take advantage of it, it was really no big deal.  Gov Romney's words were about something more.  They may reveal not simply knowledge gap, but possibly an empathy gap.


Given how charitable and spiritual he is, it's hard to know what he meant, but imagining that people are not entitled to food, or that all people who are in need view themselves as entitled victims, that is troubling.  It would be good for him to address that, especially as there are ways he could do it.  Avoidance however, does  not seem wise.

I hear the word victim and I think crime. I hear the word needy and I think help.

Interesting.  I think you are onto something here and it may help explain the whole mess.


We DO live in a culture which celebrates victimhood, and too encourages people to claim the mantle of victim as a way to avoid any moral responsibility.  I think that lots of people know that and resent it.  That said, the idea that all hungry and homeless people are guilty of that practice is just false!


To believe that government should not be the first and last recourse in as many situations as it is, is something about which resaobale people can disagree.  But to fail to consider that there are people who need and deserve help, including at least sometimes, the help of government, is prepsoterous.  Sdaly, I don't think Mr. Romeny would disagree.  why he can't or won't say that is a real problem.

I'd dispute the concept of "sharing". Clearly, he was speaking to like-minded people, never meant to "share" with other than that audience. And what he said was in no way true. He was feeding raw meat to those who like it. I am hoping it will spell the end of his pretention to the presidency, as it will cement the reality of his disdain of those unlike him, i.e., white and very very wealthy.

So which is it, feeding "raw meat" to those who liked it, or a picture of who Mr. Romney really is?  The problem with responses like yours is that it seems you don't care as long as it gives you something to justify your already negative view of the man ("disdainful") andnot the policies for whcih he stands.


And to the extent that you think this is all helpful in ending his campaign, do you also favor Republicans dredging up old talks given by the President?

What portion of the reviled 47% got there as a result of losing jobs which were off-shored? Broader question, what is the total impact of off-shoring jobs to tax revenues and the economy at large?

Great question, by which I mean, there is no clear answer.  As you probably know, there are economic theorists on both sides.  Some argue that off-shoring ultimately creates an economic tide which rises globally abd floats all boats.  Others say it just ain't so.  Frankly, most people I know who discuss the issue, just use it to prove what they already believed.


More importantly though, the vast majority of the 47% DO pay taxes -- employment taxes.  And among those who don't, they are either elderly and lijkely did pay taxes earlier in life, or are so poor that they don;t have enough to tax.  THAT'S what makes the tape as damning as it does.  The rest is actually stuff about which we should be talking more.

Should I be concerned that the election has been altered by a suspiciously timed video, that was obviously illegally recorded?

Although your question is meant to be a bit snarky, it IS worth taking seriously.  For starters, I would not spend any time spinning ouot conspriacy theories about the timing and source of the video, but the legal and ethical questions are real.


It is especially disturbing -- dare I say hypocritical? -- for those who broke the story to speak as they have, about the importance of trust in cultivating their sources.  Trust?  The very making of the video was a betrayal of trust!

I am SO not a Romney fan. And I understand that his words betray a total lack of understanding of who votes for what party and why. At the core of what he said, though, there is an unfortunate reality that so many of us are so frozen in lockstep with one party that we would not vote for someone in the other party no matter what. Or at least that many political operatives truly believe that. Presidential candidates campaign in certain states and write off others, do you think we'll ever see one do a 50-state tour or reach out to people everywhere again? Do you think Obama has groups of voters he writes off? The Romney comments could lead to something productive if we all stop piling on the specific insults he made and get to the core attitude that you start a race with a significant portion of the electorate that won't vote for you even if their guy is found out to possess some terrible quality.

You are wise and honest, and it is especially moving when, as someone who doesn't like Romney, his comments are so easy to attack.


Of course the President writes off whole communities of voters.  Rmember his comments about small town Americans bitterly clinging to their guns and religion?  The truth is, that all of us are pretty easily seduced, when surrounded by the most ardent supporters and idealogues, to mirror their views and seek their approval -- especially when we need their money!



To me, yes, they're inaccurate, insensitive and dumb. But the message behind them is considerably more chilling: Romney considers nearly half of his fellow Americans to be leeches, vs. who they really are: students, the working poor, the elderly, etc. People Romney could be if he'd caught a bad break or three along the way. Ultimately, the remarks indicate to me that Romney sees America as "us vs. them," and that anyone who has a rough time financially is worthless and eminently disposable.

The thing is, that after your initial despcription -- one that rigns mostly true to me -- your assessment hinges on things he NEVER said and assumes things about his intent based on policies conclusions with which you disagree.  That's not right to do either.


What Gov. Romney tapped into was a deep frustration about two sharply divided camps in this country -- one which thinks that goverment is the answer and one whcih thinks it is the problem.  Neither is correct, but saying that doesn't win elections, as both candidates seem to know and exploit.


Interestingly, and ignoring different leaders rheotrical flourishes, economic success in this country has almost always been a function of combining the appreciation that government is sometimes the answer and sometimes the problem.  Show me the politician who's willing to really live with that model and I will show you someone who could bring the country together.

Let's face it - the unwashed masses had no desire to vote for Romney anyway. I'm actually happy he's called out a large group of people that believe they are entitled to everything. Shame we live in a world where preaching personal responsibility is considered a gaffe.

Listen, I too beleive in personal responsibility, but that is NOT all Mitt said.  At a minimum he used a powerful statistic in a misguided way.  Maximally, he suggested that there is no room for needy people i.e. people with real needs that must be met, if not only for the sake of their own dignity, but for the sake of ours!


Do you really equate committment to persosnal responsibility and smaller government with the notion that there should be no publi safety net for any person in need of any assistnace?  I get not trusting gov't to respond as well or as efficiently as we might hope, but then talk about that, not about there being no place for a safety net.

Judging him by unguarded remarks is only a problem for Romney (or any politician for that matter) if who he presents to the voting public is not who he truly is. If you are pandering to an audience to get them riled and eager to part with their money, and in that moment, are insincere and untrue to your values, you have to own that. And live with the consequences when you're caught. So what's worse - that Romney would believe those things? Or that he would pretend to so that he could get their money. His comments were either incredibly ignorant, or insincere. I don't want either in my president. But unfortunately politics is rife with both.

come now, that is like saying that the President is really a scialist because he has championed "redistribution" of wealth, and "spreading the wealth around", when speaking in settings where using that language would work to his political advantage.

I think the real issue is to measure a candidates words with their actual record.  What one finds with most of them -- certainly presidents -- is that the language plays to the base, while the policies move toward the center.  That said, the seeming callousness of some of Mr. Romney's language is troubling, I think even to many who either support him or are thinking about it.

I don't think it's so much about the 47% itself and whether it was true or untrue. It was the part where he said it wasn't his responsibility to worry about them. Whether he plans to write off nearly half the country if elected, or if he just meant that he didn't expect to get their votes, it's a tremendously worrisome comment.

There is plenty to critisize about what he said, but nothing he said suggested that he didn't care about the 47% as people or as Americans.  Actually the President went on Letterman and suggested that is what MR said.  Frankly, that was about as cynical as what Romney did by pandering to donors in Florida.

I think the major flaw of MR is his lack of acknowledgement of the many advantages he has benefited from. First he was born in one of the greastest and most prosperous nations. He is the son of an auto executive and Governor, sent to private schools etc. He didn;t succeed on his own, he started from a higher place from which further success was easier.

I temd to agree.  It reflects an ongoing problem we have in which those who appreciate that the contexts in which one operate all contribute to even the most "individual" successes, don't sufficiently appreciate the individual part of those successes on the one hand, and those who do, find it impossible to admit that context really counts and that even when you accomplish something by yourself, it's rarely totally  by yourself.

Stupid though it certainly was, I don't think it compares to Romney's comment. After all, even though it was horribly condescending and elitist, it was on some misguided level an attempt to understand where those voters were coming from. It wasn't an outright dismissal of half of the country. Also, it was one line. Romney's speech is full of offensive comments from beginning to end. I especially liked the one about how he would be better off if his parents were Mexican.

The funny thing is, that Romney supporters would say that his comments were exactly what you credit the President with -- an attempt to understand where those voters were coming from.  And actually, while you may be right about the President's intent, that WAS Romney's intent and he said so.  So at the very least, to be fair, you would need to call the two gaffes a "wash" and move on


That is neither a defense or apology for Mr. Romney.  I simply think that whatever one's politics, his words are instructive for those on all sides.  There is deep mistrust of government in this country, by at least a large plurality of voters, and trust is NOT rebuilt with lectures and statisitcs.  There are also a great many Americans who seem to be increasingly unconcerned about fellow citizens in need, and use their mistrust of govet to avoid how they will actually care for those in need. 

All this sanctimonious nonsense from those criticizing Romney makes me sick. It's easy to demand "compassion" and "understanding" for the poor with other people's money. Do they think they have the higher moral ground than somebody rich like Romney? I don't think they do, and I'm far below the 1 percenters. How many of those faux outraged walk the wallk against poverty (using their own resources) instead of talking the talk? The more a politician says he wants to help somebody, the less I trust him, so good for Romney. He essentially said govt is growing too much and too many of us are depending on it.

You are correct that it istypically  easier to spend other people's  money than one's own, and that is what Gov. Romney was addressing at the dinner.  You are correct that some of the criticism is wildly santimonious and not altogether honest.  But that doesn't wash away the image of a man who wants to be president telling a room full of people that we don;t have at least some measure of shared responsibility to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless in the wealthiest nation on earth.


If what he wanted to so was speak about too much government and too much dependancy, then he should have done that and that only.  By casting aspersions on others, by misusing (if not misrepresetning) facts, and by suggesting that mobilizing around contmempt for others is a good way to go, I think Mr. Romeny actually weakened his case and the questions about which you and millions of other Americans are mkost concerned.

Clearly, there is more we could say, but time our hour is at hand.  And, as I often say, my hands are tired!


Don't forget that we can continue this conversation if you find me on facebook or follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.


'Til next week,


In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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