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Undermining Conservatism

6:01 PM, Sep 20, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Henry Olsen writes in the Washington Post

The problem with Mitt Romney’s comments about the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay taxes isn’t just that they are highly misleading and damaging politically. They also severely misstate and undermine conservative principles at a time when many Americans desperately want an alternative to Obamaism.

Conservatism at its heart believes in the individual. We believe that every person has the capacity to devise a life of her or his own choosing, and that untoward government activity both channels and throttles a person’s ability to flourish. That is true whether someone is rich, poor or average; whether a person wants to climb the highest mountains or dwell in the deepest valleys. [...]

It wasn’t so long ago that mainstream conservatism represented these values. We indexed income brackets and personal exemptions to inflation in the early 1980s to protect middle- and low-income families. Conservatives created the child tax credit in 1997 and expanded it in 2001 to reduce the tax burden for parents. In the past decade, we championed a flat tax that contained a generous exemption for a family of four, precisely so those least able to pay would not be forced to.

I believe the mainstream conservative still believes in these things. But when Romney divides the world into makers and takers and presumes that our ability to pay federal income tax is a measure of which group we belong to, he sends a different message. He implicitly tells average Americans that their quiet work doesn’t “make” America unless they are entrepreneurs who make enough money. Worse, he tells them that their lives aren’t even dignified, that they are “takers” who are unable to exercise personal responsibility over their lives.

A number of conservatives have argued that the ideas behind Romney's remarks are intellectually damaging to conservatism: See Ross DouthatRamesh Ponnuru, and others

And here's one reader's response to the boss's post on the Romney videotape:

I am a single mother who, because my income is so low, does not pay federal income tax. However, I do not collect any kind of welfare, and I pay into the Social Security fund. I may be in the 47% who do not pay income tax, but I was still planning on voting for Mitt Romney, because I want what is best for the country.  I felt so upset and betrayed, though, when I heard Gov. Romney's remarks to his wealthy donors, that I am thinking of sitting out this election.  And I just feel worse when I hear Republicans defending the Governor's remarks, seeming to imply that I am not capable of rational thought because I am not rich.  Thus it was a relief to read your balanced, sane analysis.  Thank you.

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