Who, exactly, are these 47% Romney is referring to? There are two answers: the statistical 47% that lead to that oft-repeated soundbite, and the 47% Romney is actually referring to.

Ta-Nehisi Coates shared this quote from Lee Atwater describing “the Southern Strategy” on his blog today. The quote was first published anonymously, then later attributed to Atwater in the 1980s.  Three decades later, it still proves revelatory.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*****, n*****.”


This sort of cynical race-baiting is common to the party and the repercussions are still felt today, and will be for a long time.

The latest Romney controversy is a testament to that long, ugly history. It is a confirmation of what many suspected, which is that Romney is running for the elite. He has an exclusionary mindset that so many on the right prescribe to Obama, which by the way is almost as quixotic as hack conservative gadfly Dinesh D’Souza’s analysis of the President. He, and not the fictional Obama that birthers claim wasn’t even born in these United States, is the one who grew up in and continues to inhabit a world that is so alien from our own.

If he comes across as an awkward weirdo, it’s because as far as we’re concerned, he is. He can’t and won’t possess any empathy for the common working man, despite his claims to the contrary. He has absolutely no understanding of what struggle is. He doesn’t know what it’s like to operate without a familial safety net. His is a life of privilege, from beginning to end. That alone does not disqualify one from being connected to people in any meaningful way, but combined with his narrow and stilted world view, it’s resulted in what we saw in the video leaked by Mother Jones: a man who thinks nearly half the country is a drain and not worth his time and who, by the way, wants to run the most powerful country in the world.

The “47%,” by the way, comes from the percentage of the country that is alleged by pundits and talk radio douchebags to not pay any income taxes. Which on its surface is true, but duplicitous in its presentation. Those repeating the figure either don’t know or fail to disclose who the 47% really are. the fact that income tax is what’s taken out when you file your taxes between January and April. This is not to be confused with payroll taxes that come out of every single one of our paychecks. So if you’ve ever received a tax refund, you are or were at one time part of that 47%. 

Turns out I was misinformed, but the real explanation sent to me was even better:

Payroll taxes are things paid BY THE EMPLOYER every time they file a payroll, so their contributions to your social security, unemployment insurance, etc.

The withholdings that are taken out of our your paycheck every two weeks ARE income taxes . . . they are based on the amount of income that THE EMPLOYEE earns. Those withholdings are no different than what you pay when you file your taxes April 15. If you get a refund, it means you paid too much income tax in your withholdings, but it’s YOUR money that you are getting back (less the interest you would have earned if you didn’t put it in the Feds’ pockets). So you can pay a LOT of income tax every years without ever paying any of it with your filing . . . people who are self-employed (or partners in businesses that they own) are required to make quarterly income tax payments.

The 47% is actually based on the number who people who really do end up making no net payment over the course of a twelve-month period . . . they may have withholdings and then get a refund, or they may not have withholdings because they don’t earn paychecks. Many of them don’t pay because they don’t earn enough . . . but many MORE of them don’t pay because they earn A LOT, but are savvy enough to use various loopholes to get their taxable income down below the level where payment is not required. Romney himself is (or has been) likely one of the 47% for years.

But that’s not Romney’s 47%. Going back to Atwater, the 47% is a code word used by Romney and the other thirty out-of-touch, smarmy millionaires in that room for a very specific group.


Already there are those on the defensive reading this that, I’m sure, would insist that Romney was making a statement on socio-economic class. But any attempt to separate the racial implications and present it simply as class betrays, if not sincerity, a fundamental misunderstanding of race and racism in this country. Because even those poor white trash that we’re going to put in the 47% are n*****s in the eyes of these men. People like Romney may be able to create a rainbow coalition in their smug world view out of this parasitic 47%, but there is absolutely no mistaking what color the faces of the people are when he invokes the term “Middle Class” with such reverence and concern.

People are calling this a disaster for Romney. Yet a part of me, cynical as it may be, can’t help but not be surprised at all by this. It’s the sentiment his most vociferous supporters have been propounding over the last several months, and it’s the narrative they’ll continue with up to, including, and past this coming November’s election. Will it hurt Romney now that we’ve heard it coming straight out of his mouth? Perhaps, but were any of us that were affected by this statement actually considering voting for this awkward, privileged goof? Is there anyone, honestly, outraged by these comments that up until now thought this useless fucking haircut would be a good Commander-in-Chief? That he’d invite anything but ridicule and disaster upon us when put in a position to make decisions that affect the entire planet?

Bush, at least, came across (and still does) like he’s able to talk to a human being without playing a prank on him.

Joke’s on us.

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