As the political world digests the significance of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” controversy, I’ve seen this comparison come up quite a bit.
It was just four years ago that Obama was recorded at his own closed-door event talking about how people “cling to guns and religion” when things don’t go well in their lives.
The parallels between the two situations are striking; both feature the candidate inartfully characterizing people who support the other team. Of course, Romney’s comments will be much more important to this campaign, given that they aren’t four years old.
Conor Friedersdorf is thinking along the same lines, referencing “Mitt Romney’s ‘Clinging to Guns or Religion’ Moment.”
The superficial similarities are, of course, obvious. Both involve presidential candidates getting caught on secret videos saying something politically embarrassing, while speaking behind closed doors to supporters.
But I think the parallels effectively end there. In fact, on a substantive level, the two secretly-recorded videos are actually opposites.
It’s been four years, but if you go back and look at Obama’s comments, the then-senator was talking about white, working-class voters who feel politically skeptical as the economy has left them behind, but he told his supporters that he intends to fight for these voters’ support anyway. Obama defended these folks, said they have a right to be “bitter,” and explained why he felt like his plan would meet these voters’ needs.
Romney’s comments, meanwhile, offer an entirely different perspective – instead of defending those who may skeptical of him, the Republican is writing them off, chastising them for considering themselves “victims” and failing to “take personal responsibility.” While Obama’s comments show his desire to fight for every last vote, even in communities where he wouldn’t expect to be popular, Romney said, “[M]y job is not to worry about those people.”
They offer fascinating bookends that tell us a great deal about these candidates’ values, but to see them as similar is a mistake.
Update: Jon Chait had a good piece along these lines, explaining, “Obama was aspiring to become president of all of America, even that part most hostile to him, in the belief that what they shared mattered more than what divided them. Romney genuinely seems to conceive of the lowest-earning half of the population as implacably hostile parasites.”