“47 Percent” Vs. “Bitter Clinger”

This afternoon, Mother Jones' David Corn reported on a video of Mitt Romney taken surreptitiously at a campaign fundraiser in which the Republican presidential candidate tells donors that “there are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims,” and 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.” Romney explained that he has to “convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents” to vote for him to get him just over the electoral hump.

The immediate reaction among some members of the press has been to draw parallels to the campaign 2008 foofaraw over candidate Obama's “bitter clinger” tape. Aside from the obvious similarity that both secret recordings captured a presidential candidate speaking unguardedly to donors, the comparison is inapt. In 2008, Obama was explaining to donors the challenge of winning over voters who had lost faith in the government. Romney was writing off a huge swath of the electorate as hopeless.

Nonetheless, it was the first comparison journalists reached for. The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn headlined his post on the Romney video “Romney's 'cling to their guns' moment.” This is from The Washington Post's initial write-up:

Candidates tend to talk more freely at closed-door fundraisers than they do publicly, and when those remarks leak out to the media, they can create trouble. In 2008, President Obama told a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion” -- a quote that is still being used against him.

That moment has, somewhat ironically, become a totem of grievance to which conservatives cling quite bitterly to this day. But, again, the comparison doesn't wash. Here's what Obama said at that fundraiser as he explained the challenge of winning over voters to his campaign:

But the truth is, is that our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's no evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot -- like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they've gone through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate, and they have not. It's not surprising, then, that they get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. At least in some communities, anyway.

That's a completely different message, delivered with a completely different tone, than Romney's.

But that's not to say the Romney video is not without comparative value. For example, an enterprising reporter might want to ask Romney about what the videotaped remarks say about these comments Romney made last month:

Romney accused Obama of pushing Republicans and Democrats “as far apart as they can go” and he accused Obama of waging an even more divisive campaign by “dividing us all in groups.”

“He demonizes some. He panders to others. His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose,” Romney said. “So, Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago, and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”