Romney and Oklahoma

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Conventional political wisdom may tell us otherwise, but it’s difficult to believe the widely circulated video clip of Mitt Romney dismissing nearly half the country as freeloaders won’t negatively affect his election chances.

It might even win more votes for President Barack Obama in Oklahoma.

The pundits have weighed in on the clip in which Romney wildly and falsely claims 47 percent of Obama voters 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.” The pundit consensus seems to be that this is just a gaffe—a bad one, to be sure—that will go down the collective memory hole soon and have no impact on the election.

Writing in Salon.com, Alex Pareene tell us bluntly, ”Gaffes don’t actually matter. It’s sad, but true.”

Pareene makes the point that “few people pay attention to the news the way we (journalists, commentators, bloggers and people who read Salon) do: almost obsessively. The Romney tape just came out on Monday, and the campaign has a couple days still to furiously spin in order to make sure that the end result is a wash for Romney.”

I would add the argument that the corporate media itself is the most culpable for not holding politicians accountable for their words through utterly false conflation (“what Romney said is just like what Obama said”) and through the need to score that daily scoop and moving on to less important matters while feeding the vastly expanded news hole in the Internet age.

But leave all that aside for a moment. Romney’s comments should leave all of us incredulous. The video clip shows an extremely wealthy man telling a group of extremely wealthy people a brazen lie about how nearly half the country is made up of moochers and losers whom Romney will “never convince . . . [to] . . . take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” It was a disgusting display of privilege and arrogance and meanness, a heartfelt, lying rant of uber-snobbery that one could argue is unparalleled in contemporary politics no matter how much the media tries to conflate it with the history of the gaffe.

So a counter argument is that this so-called gaffe may have crossed a line that will become a defining moment for the 2012 presidential election or, here’s another argument, serve as yet another signal that we are moving into a new era of political discourse in which any amount of lying and any amount of right-wing cravenness is acceptable to the corporate media and the voting electorate.

That’s the larger picture, but could Romney’s hateful rant help Obama in Oklahoma? Obviously, Romney will win Oklahoma, but in 2008 U.S. Sen. John McCain cleanly swept all the state’s 77 counties, and Oklahoma became known by some as the reddest state in the nation. Can Obama win one or two or more counties in Oklahoma this year, especially given Romney’s complete disdain for the state’s residents who don’t pay federal income tax? It’s possible, and it’s also possible Democrats can score political points for future elections. Here’s why:

  • In the video clip, Romney makes the ludicrous claim that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax are deadbeats and Obama supporters. That’s nonsense, as we all know. In Oklahoma, according to the Tax Foundation, 37 percent of the state’s residents didn’t pay federal income tax in 2008, and obviously many of those people are Republican and voted for U.S. Sen. John McCain for president. Some elderly people and people in low-paying jobs are exempt from federal income taxes, but do pay other taxes, and probably and rightly don’t see themselves as abdicating personal responsibility. Romney insults them. One-issue GOP voters (anti-abortion, gun rights) will probably always vote against their financial interests, but what about those Republicans without strong feelings about social-conservative issues? Could they sit out this election in Oklahoma and other red states?

  • Oklahoma GOP voters don’t really like Romney. On the editorial page of The Oklahoman, Romney can do no wrong, but the GOP voting record is clear. In 2008, Romney only received 83,030 votes or 24.7 percent in the GOP presidential primary. This year, Romney received even less votes at 80,356 and came in second to Rick Santorum. The Santorum support shows that a majority of GOP voters here are more motivated by social-conservative issues than economic issues. Romney’s ever-changing positions on abortion and reproductive rights leave him without the enthusiastic support Santorum might have generated if he were the GOP nominee. Now that we know Romney has casually insulted and demeaned a sizeable amount of Republican Oklahomans, the enthusiasm for his candidacy should wane even further.

This doesn’t mean Oklahoma Democrats should launch some last-minute campaign blitz—even if they could—to turn the state blue in the closing weeks of the 2012 election, but it does mean they should continue to highlight Romney’s comments up until election day. It’s also important Oklahoma Democrats vote this election. It may seem like hoping for a county or two to give a majority of votes to Obama is a classic case of low expectations, and it might not happen here simply because of racism, but Romney’s insult draws a clear distinction between the two parties that could be used in later elections.

Let’s face it. Romney at least dismisses if not despises a vast number of people he automatically assumes will vote for him in red states throughout the country. He not only will work against their financial interests by cutting taxes for the wealthy, raising taxes on everyone else and gutting social and health programs, he will also do so as he denigrates them in front of his wealthy puppeteers.