Plenty of conservatives are pushing back against the worldview espoused by Mitt Romney in his "arrogant and stupid' remarks at a private fundraiser earlier this year.
The conservative case against Romney's analysis is multi-pronged. His description of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes as "dependents" flies in the face of the conservative view that Americans should be paying fewer, not more, taxes. And historically, most Americans have not paid income taxes. Moreover, most of those who don't pay income taxes still contribute to the federal government in the form of payroll taxes and other federal taxes and fees. The political argument, that those who are "dependents" won't be voting for Romney anyway, is demonstrably wrong, and the content and tone of Romney's remarks don't strike many conservatives (and others) as particularly presidential.
At the Daily Caller, Jim Antle notes how Romney's use of the "47 percent" marker who are "dependent" on government is simply wrong:
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said of the dreaded 47 percent.
The problem is that Romney isn’t basing that figure on dependency on government programs. He’s using the rough percentage of people who pay no federal income tax.
There are two reasons the percentage of Americans who don’t write checks to the IRS has spiked in recent years: the bad economy, which Romney pledges to ameliorate, and Republican tax cuts, which Romney plans to continue....
Far from enabling the growth of government, tax relief for the working poor and middle class has made it possible to enact across-the-board tax cuts that apply even to upper-income earners.
Ramesh Ponnuru, who has been arguing against this trope for some time, demonstrates that Romney's political analysis of the "47 percent" just isn't true:
One major reason for the growth of the federal government in recent years has been that entitlement spending per beneficiary has increased, and so has the number of beneficiaries as people have retired. Yet senior citizens -- who benefit from federal programs, on average, far more than younger people -- have become more Republican over that same period. They actually voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008 by a slightly higher margin than they did for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.
In 2010, their Republican margin increased even more, to a whopping 21 points. Pollster Scott Rasmussen told me that in his latest poll, Romney still leads among seniors by 19 points.
It’s true that Americans with low incomes -- more and more of whom now receive food stampsand federally subsidized health insurance -- have generally voted for Democrats over Republicans. But in 2010, these voters shifted toward Republicans even as food stamps,unemployment benefits and the like continued to increase.
Conservatives have even less reason for worrying about people who don’t pay federal income taxes. A major reason that the number of those people has grown is that a Republican-controlled Congress created, and the Bush administration expanded, a tax credit for parents. If there is any evidence that in recent years middle-class parents have become more Democratic, relative to the general electorate, I haven’t seen it.
Libertarian Matt Welch notes that Romney's assessment stings of vulgar, reductive Marxism:
This is economic determinism at its worst, going against the very message the Republican Party was trying to sell to the world during its quadrennial national convention last month. Over and over again, we heard speakers there talk about how their immigrant grandparents came to this country, worked hard, built "that," never asked for a handout, and as a result their descendants have enjoyed the American Dream of ever-upward mobility. What the 53/47 dividing line says, to the direct contrary, is that income status is a permanent political condition, defrocking all Americans of agency and independent thought.
Is there a reason for conservatives to be concerned about a broader culture of government dependency? Absolutely--it's the sort of thing Romney's running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, has talked about when it comes to Medicare reform and reining in the federal budget. Reform-minded conservatives argue that without making important changes to the welfare state, this is exactly the sort of future to which the United States is bound. In fact, this is the debate some on the right have pushed for in this presidential campaign.
But Romney's reductive characterization of the political landscape indicates he doesn't understand any of this.