Some may argue that politics is nothing more than a game of numbers. Be it through exit polls, surveys or political speeches, candidates are always making use of some statistical data to get their point across. The act of using numbers as a form of political fodder has become so routine in political life, that elections can be won or lost just based on who ever wields the more impressive use of numbers, even if the numbers being used are incorrect or taken out of context. I personally cannot recall the last time I did not hear a candidates freely throw out a number. Throughout this year’s presidential race, the American public is contently being reminded in mathematical terms of the unemployment numbers, the size of the U.S. debt and promises of how jobs could be created or how the debt could be lowered.
Given that the U.S. on the heels of the one year anniversary of the occupy movement, a movement that ingrained the terms of the 99% and 1% into the American lexicon forever, its only fitting to have another percentage added. Earlier this week, a video was released by Mother Jones, featuring Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking during a $50,000 plate dinner, held in the home of private equity mogul Mark Leder. In the video, Romney is recorded stating that 47% of Americans who will vote for President Obama “pay no income tax,” that those Americans like to portray themselves as “victims” and are “dependent upon government.” Romney went on to state, “my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Within that instant, Mitt Romney had written off almost half of the American public as freeloaders.
As this new percentage began making its rounds, it got me to thinking. So who exactly falls into the 47%? NPR’s Plant Money recently published a article explaining who exactly falls into this percentage and by last account, the percentage is actually 46%.
Source: Tax Policy Center
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR
The chart is compiled by data from the Tax Policy Center. The section labeled low income refers to the 2011 poverty guideline from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is $26,400 for a family of four. The benefits for the elderly refers to some social security payments that are not taxed as income and the elderly also get other tax breaks that lower their taxes. The benefits for the working poor and children refers to earned income tax credits and tax credits that parents receive for their children. Jacob Goldstein of NPR’s Planet Money explains, “because of these special benefits, a family of four (two parents, two children) earning up to $45,775 last year would not have had to pay income taxes, primarily because of special credits for children.” The section under other benefits refers to itemized deductions, tax credits for education and income tax exemptions.
As the Planet Money article explains, many Americans who were hastily thrown under the bus as freeloaders are in fact merely trying to keep their heads above water. As the political backlash over Romney’s comments went viral over the web, the candidate has chosen to double down on his comments. A view that further cements attacks against him from the Democratic Party, that Romney only truly cares for the wealthy. The comments also have many members of his own political party backing away from him, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin said that Republicans need to show that “they are concerned about every American,” according to the New York Times. It is going to be a long two months for Mitt.
I had my first dabble in politics during my senior year in high school, when I agreed to help a close friend run for student body president. What started out as a harmless venture into high school politics so he could meet girls, turned into an ugly, downright shameful campaign that would have made Mitt Romney proud. Our campaign strategy was simple, we would raise money for the campaign by collecting donations from a few friends in return for political favors. Which really meant nothing at the time, this was high school after all. Our political influence was limited to perhaps a free lunch.
We collected a small fortune of about $200 dollars. The money went to finance a smear campaign against our rival in the race, that amounted to us passing out flyers around campus, suggesting that our political rival had a love child with a handicapped student. My friend showed no remorse and pulled out all stops on his dirty election run. Leaving me thinking that he would have even taken out a hit against the other guy, if he would have gotten away with it. In the end, our political ambitions got us suspended from school, costed us a few friends and the election.
Now fast-forward to 2012 and what has changed in American politics? Not much really.
As the 2012 presidential race is hot under way, the Republican front-runners are busy tearing at each other’s throats via proxy attack ads, such as a recent attack ad against Newt Gingrich financed by Mitt Romney’s super PAC, “Restore Our Future.” It’s a catchy name, isn’t it.
So what in the hell is a super PAC? The term is an abbreviation for political action committee and its birth came from the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v.The Federal Election Commission. Prior to the decision, political contributions were limited by the federal government to tune of $2,500. After the decision by the high court, previous limits on political campaign financing were prohibited, opening the floodgates for unlimited political contributions. Super PACs can now raise unlimited amounts of money in support for or against a candiate. The only catch is that the super PACs cannot “coordinate” with candidates they support. Is it just me, or does that not make any sense at all?
Given the complexity and absurdity of it all, Stephen Colbert invited the former chairmen of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor Potter, on his show early last year to explain what a super PAC is and how it works. Click on the link above to see the video.
So why even have a super PAC? For starters, its expense to run a political campaign. According to a recent article in Forbes, the cost of a presidential run has skyrocketed over the years. In 1996, Bill Clinton spent $153 million, compared to the $774 million Barack Obama spent in 2008.
Second, not everyone who wants to have some say in how the government is ran will run for office. So how can organizations, businesses or individuals have a say in goverment? By buying some political influence and that is now becoming easier to get then most people think. All it takes is deep pockets, leaving out about 99 percent of Americans from the political process.
According to Forbes, As of 2011, super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich raised over $32 million combined. Behind some of the largest contributions are mega millionaires, like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave Romney $11 million as of January of this year. According to political strategist Douglas Schoen, when ever a political donor gives that much money, that donor is now someone with some sway, “you will be taken seriously in Washington by every player.” Where as “in traditional philanthropic giving, that’s a valuable contribution, but the president of the university doesn’t have time for you. The President of the United States does have time for you,” according to Schoen.
As the Republican presidential race continues on its crash course towards the hearts and minds of the bewildered American public. Every bit of promotion helps and in Ron Paul’s case, he may just need it. Compared to the other Republican candidates, Paul has often gotten the cold shoulder from the mainstream media according to a recent article from The Atlantic Wire. A study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Paul “received the least overall coverage of any candidate. From May 2 to October 9, Paul appeared as the “primary newsmaker in only 2% of all election stories.”