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“Occupy” And Romney: Why The 99 Percent Isn’t The 47 Percent

Lauren Foliart |
September 24, 2012 | 4:37 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


(Photo from Flickr via Creative Commons)
(Photo from Flickr via Creative Commons)
A video leaked of GOP candidate Mitt Romney condemning almost half of Americans as being lazy, victimized freeloaders hits the internet and instantly "47 percent" is the new buzzword.

But people should be wary of this meta tag.  Not only does it oversimplify the number of Americans not paying income taxes, the figure also poses a threat to the national conversation of economic inequality set in place by the now one-year-old Occupy Wall Street movement. 

"I don't think [the 99 percent and 47 percent] are related," said Jon Wiener, UCI professor of history and columnist for the Nation, when asked about the two figures as buzzwords.

"What he said just sounds like the product of a Republican think-tank."

The video of Romney speaking at a private fundraiser earlier this year shows the republican candidate speaking freely about the 47 percent of voters he claims "will vote for the [current] president no matter what."  

He says: "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… I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Coming from someone who is a walking cliché of the one percent, Romney's hateful words are not all that shocking.  What is surprising, however, is the band of republican voters behind him that actually agree.

"That's the way Republicans talk to each other," Wiener commented.  "They're usually not allowed to say those things in public… But it's a norm in those Republican circles."

It seems all too appropriate that the video gained attention on the same day Occupy Wall Street celebrated their one-year anniversary.  The 99 percent now fading with time, taking form as a sidebar rather than a chapter in history books, it would seem the buzzword arrived just in time to rally outraged citizens and create a new percentage movement. 

But that's not the case.  The "47 percent," as a tag line, falls short on two hazardous levels: 1) its basis in Republican rhetoric, and 2) its erroneous representation of data.

According to Media Matters, the figure, along with Romney's other remarks, has affiliation with a conservative action that tried to combat the Occupy movement last year.  

In Oct. 2011, conservative activists created a Tumblr called "We are the 53 percent."  The right-wing blog declared it represented the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes in contrast to the 47 percent who don't -- those part of the Occupy demonstrations.

Erick Erickson, the founder of RedState.org and accredited mastermind behind the "We are the 53 percent" blog, makes the first post on Oct. 5, 2011.  He writes

"Suck it up you whiners.  I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain."

The only truth behind these statistics is that 53 percent of Americans do pay income tax.  But to imply the other 47 percent of the pie evade taxes all together is more than incorrect; it's asinine.

"[A]s I have been saying for some time now, the 47 percent figure, while technically accurate as it relates to federal income taxes, doesn't include what people do pay through the payroll tax, sales taxes, excise taxes, and all sorts of other levies," Slate communist Elite Spitzer wrote last week.

In other words, to make that two-sided pie of Romney's more accurate -- roughly 53 percent pay income tax, a little more than 28 percent pay payroll tax and the remaining 29 percent not paying either are primarily the elderly and people making under $20,000 a year.  

It is now a week since Romney's verbal rant went viral and the candidate's ratings are paying the price.  Voters and politicians alike are speaking out against Romney's comments, disassociating themselves from the stereotype he put forward.  

The sneak peak the world got into Romney's head last week, however, should not take away from the larger controversies surrounding his wealth. While the video might be proof of the candidate’s character, remember -- Romney is a member of the one percent, not the 53 percent.

"Maybe he meant it, maybe he didn't," Wiener said.  "But it kind of sounded like he meant it."

For a further breakdown of these figures, check out this report from the Tax Policy Center (PDF): "Why Some Units Pay No Income Tax"

Reach reporter Lauren Foliart here.



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