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Romney and the 47 Percent

Posted by Elizabeth Ullrich on

Elizabeth Ullrich

Elizabeth Ullrich

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who 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 — that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." 
        —Mitt Romney, speaking at a fundraiser, May 17, 2012

The "47 percent gaffe" by Romney has been dominating the news cycles since it was released by Mother Jones last week. There have been many pundits, on the right and the left, dissecting its damage (if any) to the Romney campaign and what it says about the Republican Party.

I'm going to leave behind the party bickering and jockeying about the comment. What effect it has on Romney's chances to win is of little consequence to me. What concerns me most is what it says about the greater presidential campaigns that we have every four years and how effective (or ineffective) these campaigns are at electing a capable candidate for the highest office in our land.

Every semester, in my American Government classes, I require my students to read and understand the founding documents of our nation. Instead of requiring them to memorize the Constitution, I require them to understand the philosophy of our Founding Fathers and why our nation was set up the way it is.

Our Founding Fathers did not trust the average Americans with the most important decisions of our federal government. They trusted elites to make those decisions better, mainly because they believed that average people did not have the ability to think beyond their immediate circumstances and prioritize the collective interest of all in the country.

Our Founding Fathers believed elites were better at understanding "the big picture" and the gravity of their decisions. This understanding would enable them to be more responsible in their decision-making and take into account the public good of all, instead of only the interests of specific groups.

In essence, our Founding Fathers believed that moderation would only happen in politics when the average Americans had very limited participation in it. This can explain why average Americans do not make the decisions in our federal government. They simply vote for the elites that will make their decision for them. So when an average Americans place their votes for a politician, they are voting for the individual they trust the most to make the decisions that they cannot make themselves.

Now, let's fast-forward to the modern-day presidential campaign. We have two teams, who are willing to do whatever it takes to win, including the decision to ignore, smear, belittle, and blame certain groups of people that (they are convinced) are not going to vote for them.

Where is the concern for the public good? Where is the practice of moderation that our Founding Fathers explained was so necessary to a stable government? Now enter the "47 percent gaffe."

If our Founding Fathers were alive today, they would be abhorred at a situation in which a politician explains why he does not plan on taking into account certain groups of people and their particular needs, simply because they may not vote for him. If these people do not vote for Romney, then Romney seems uninterested in representing their needs.

Why do Americans think it is okay to elect someone who is clearly not intending to even understand the groups that disagree with him? Is this the kind of leadership that our Founding Fathers intended?

Our Founding Fathers would want a president who is open to compromise, who doesn't play politics based on team membership, but rather based on what is best for the collective interest of the country.

Our Founding Fathers would want a president who speaks back to his own team and tells them that the opposing sides are just as important as their own… a president who stands up for others, rather than a president who overlooks them when it is politically convenient.

We will never be a country where everyone thinks the same. Not even close. The best decisions come from the debate of ideas. Not the stifling of it. Therefore, we need a president that is open to new ideas, groups, actions, strategies, etc., rather than closed to them because it didn't come from the people who voted for you.

Our government was not intended to be a reward system for voters who picked the right team. Our government was set up to govern according to the public good. It is high time we start demanding our politicians start adhering to that standard, or we'll kick them out of office and replace them with politicians who will.

This is the legacy our Founding Fathers left to us. And people who vote for a politician who says he will outright ignore the interests of those who do not vote for him are helping to squander our legacy. We should be embarrassed a man of this quality made it this far in his presidential campaign.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.

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Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

Each week, he's joined live in the studio by journalists, academics, and experts. Along with viewers at home, they tackle the local, national, and global issues that matter most.