Voters don't need to wonder any longer about what Mitt Romney truly believes.
Speaking to an audience of high-dollar donors last May at a fund-raiser hosted by a Florida private-equity manager, the Republican presidential nominee expressed contempt for the "47 percent" of U.S. voters he predicts will support President Obama this fall because they are "dependent upon government." Although Mr. Romney shared his observations behind closed doors, Mother Jones magazine posted a bootleg video of his remarks on the Internet this week.
That 47 percent, Mr. Romney said, consists of Americans "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 … These are people who pay no income tax."
Mr. Romney added that "my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The nominee relied for his statistic on the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which concluded that 46.4 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax last year. (Mr. Romney's campaign and its supporters condemned a recent analysis by the center that concluded that his tax plan would increase taxes by as much as $2,000 a year for the 95 percent of American households that earn less than $200,000 annually, while it would give households that make more than $1 million an average tax cut of $87,000. But never mind).
Of course, most Americans who don't pay federal income tax still pay payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. They still pay sales and property taxes. Many households that are exempt from federal income tax are elderly or poor.
Are "those people" all handout-grabbing freeloaders? Mr. Romney appears to think so.
Mr. Romney said this week that he could have stated his secret assessment to his wealthy audience more "elegantly." But he insisted he would stand by his earlier comments, even as he asserted that he wants "all Americans [to] have a bright, prosperous future."
Mr. Romney's attempt to have it both ways raises doubts about the sincerity of the empathy he expresses for middle-class Americans. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has spoken in similarly disdainful terms about nearly half of Americans who he says are "dependent" on government.
Their argument is that Mr. Obama and other Democrats promote dependency on government to win votes. That may play well among the GOP's far-right base; Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus called Mr. Romney's remarks "on message." But it reflects a vision of the nation and its people that far more than 47 percent of Americans would reject.
The almost-half of Americans whom Mr. Romney so casually insults include many middle-class, working-class, and older voters in Ohio and Michigan who he hopes will help propel him to victory. Mr. Romney also seeks the support of independent centrist voters, whom he called "thoughtful," who have not made up their mind about their choice in November.
These voters may want to ask themselves now whether they still believe that Mr. Romney cares about them, and that he will work to make their lives better over the next four years if he is elected.