Clarence Page / Politics

Romney Misjudges Voters

An old tape that shows Barack Obama saying he believes in "redistribution" is hardly the big scoop that Republican opponent Mitt Romney's campaign claims. To some degree, we're all redistributionists now, even Romney.

Romney's campaign and conservative media have been touting the 1998 video clip of then-state Sen. Barack Obama at Chicago's Loyola University, in which he says, "I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot."

That R-word is a fighting word to the far right, especially the wingnuts who view Obama as a quasi-Marxist, secret Muslim and secret Kenyan who can't wait to hand your nest egg over to welfare cheats.

However, as more sensible conservatives point out, the "redistribution" sound-bite is hardly hot news. We chewed over the redistributionist rap quite well after candidate Obama told Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher four years ago that he wanted to "spread the wealth around."

Besides, in an uncut version of the Loyola tape unearthed by NBC, Obama goes on to argue for competition and free market capitalism, coupled with a need to help the least fortunate. That's a thoroughly mainstream argument.

In fact, whether we Americans face up to it or not, we're all redistributionists now, including Romney.

Take, for example, Social Security and Medicare. They remain two of the government's most popular, fiercely protected programs, despite their long-term funding woes. Mend them, don't end them, voters say. Yet each program is redistristributive in its own way.

So is our progressive tax structure, with its complicated array of income brackets and exemptions. Even flat-tax proponents tend to be redistributionists. They merely want to redistribute the taxing-and-spending burdens and benefits in a different way from the existing system.

That's where Romney rolled off the rails, in my view, in his far more damaging, secretly videotaped remarks at a Boca Raton fundraiser -- a video clip from which his camp has tried in vain to divert attention with the Obama video.

Responding to a question about his campaign, Romney declared that he was not going to worry about the "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what" because they "pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect." They were "dependent upon government," Romney said, and they believe that they are "victims" and "are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

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