Published September 19. 2012 4:00AM
The unscripted moments, when presidential candidates are speaking with the faithful and secure in their candor, can be revealing.
In April 2008, still immersed in a tough primary, then candidate Barack Obama tried to explain to well-heeled supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser why voters in places like rural Pennsylvania, frustrated by years of economic stagnation, hold traditions dear and look for targets to blame.
"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Mr. Obama said.
Intended or not, this broad-brush attempt to describe working-class culture and its conservative values to a liberal, wealthy audience came across as demeaning. It suggested a candidate confused over how to connect with that part of the electorate, and he arguably still is.
Now we learn of Mitt Romney's even broader brush comments, made during a May fundraiser attended by multi-millionaires at the Baco Raton, Fla. estate of private equity manager Marc Leder, dismissing the 47 percent (actually 46 percent) who do not pay income taxes.
"There are 47 percent who are with him (Obama), who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Mr. Romney told his audience.
Mr. Romney, it appears, sees the nation as two groups - the slackers on the dole (backing Obama) and the workers and contributors that will rally to him.
In truth, many of that 47 percent are the working poor, who would pay an income tax and forgo food stamps if they could earn a living wage. It includes the disabled, and the elderly who, after years of work, subsist on small or no pensions. Many of the 47 percent live in impoverished sections of red states who have backed Mr. Romney, at least up to now.
But apparently Mr. Romney decided his millionaire audience did not want to hear such nuances, they wanted to hear the narrative of us against them.