Republican candidate for Colorado governor Bob Beauprez is being pilloried as the state’s Mitt Romney after the Denver Post published video from 2010 of him deriding the “47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.
“I see something that frankly doesn’t surprise me, having been on the [congressional] Ways and Means Committee,” he tells a Rotary Club audience. “47 percent of all Americans pay no federal income tax. I’m guessing that most of you in this room are not in that 47 percent — God bless you — but what that tells me is that we’ve got almost half the population perfectly happy that somebody else is paying the bill and most of that half is you all.”
He goes on to say that this tax arrangement is part of a Democratic party plot to win more voters and keep them.
“I submit to you that there is a political strategy to get slightly over half and have a permanent ruling majority by keeping over half of the population dependent on the largess of government that somebody else is paying for.”
Kurtis Lee, the young Denver Post reporter who co-authored the story the paper included around the video, was surprised by the similarity between the 2010 remarks made by multi-millionaire banker Beauprez at the Rotary Club and the 2012 remarks made by multi-millionaire venture capitalist and Republican presidential candidate Romney at a private fundraiser in Florida, which Mother Jones published and which then spread like lightning around the political mediasphere and sank Romney’s political career.
“Did Beauprez & Romney talk about the 47%? Beauprez’s comment in ’10 sounds similar to Romney’s in ’12.” Lee asked on Twitter.
Yes they do sound similar. Because they are similar.
As US News and other outlets reported in 2012, there was nothing new in what Romney was telling the wealthy Republican crowd. Conservatives had been harping on the “47 percent” for years; it was just the latest version of the “welfare queen” line of attack popularized on the right in the Reagan era, which succeeded very well at galvanizing upper- and middle-class white resentment. The benefit of the “47 percent” version was that it came loaded with a powerful simple statistic to remember and with plain reference to the “makers versus takers” view of society developed by 1940s novelist Ayn Rand and popularized on the right over the last three decades at a slow pace and then at an accelerated pace in the Tea Party era.
The “47 percent” statistic came from a Tax Policy Center report examining 2009 U.S. tax returns that was taken up by the media. Initial news stories on the research appeared under headlines that featured the “47 percent” statistic but that also in the body copy included necessary context.
The Associated Press wrote the main factor behind the statistic was the political mania for tax breaks that had gripped Washington for decades. The story reported that the tax breaks passed in those years had been shared out liberally among all classes of Americans. It also quoted Deloitte tax expert Clint Stretch to say that politics had dumbed down public views of taxes, that people simply were being trained to see the difference between their gross pay and their take-home pay as government takings — that is, as wastefulness or theft.
“It’s not uncommon for people to think that their Social Security taxes, their 401(k) contributions, their share of employer health premiums — all of that stuff in their mind gets lumped into income taxes,” he said.
That was the Associated Press. Fox News also took up the story.
The conservative outlet ran an opinion piece that played loosely with the Tax Policy Center report and that launched a thousand conservative talking points. The piece, titled “Guess Who Didn’t Pay Taxes On Tax Day,” appeared on the Fox Nation Opinion site and was written by investment bankers Elizabeth and Mallory Factor, self-styled conservative pundits who promote free-market low-tax government policies. Although their ideas on the 47 percent clearly still have the power to shock general audiences when placed in the mouth of politicians seeking to represent wide constituencies as president or governor, they come across as hackneyed to anyone who has followed Republican politics and attended Republican candidate stump speeches in the Tea Party era.
“This is an example of politicians using the tax code for their own political ends,” the Factors wrote. “In this case, the so-called progressive Democratic politicians are using ‘tax reform’ to grow their political base by creating a group of Americans that pay no federal income tax.” They continue:
The people who don’t pay federal income taxes are, as the phrase goes, “rational economic actors” just as much as anyone. Like all people, non-taxpayers respond to economic incentives. Their demand for entitlements and government programs is naturally insatiable because they don’t care at all about the cost. Non-taxpayers don’t have any “skin in the game” and are completely indifferent to the government raising income taxes. So they will always support increasing government programs as a long as they get even a small benefit from them because it does not cost them a cent. It’s also perfectly rational for non-taxpayers to support politicians who favor more spending. Non-taxpayers get something for nothing, at least until the country becomes insolvent.
The so-called progressive Democratic politicians are rational actors too. By taking more and more Americans off the federal tax rolls, they are creating a permanent base of supporters for themselves. These politicians may claim to support increased government spending because of their concern for the less-fortunate but–hey, it also happens to be in their own political self-interest. And these politicians will continue to spend on these programs until our nation goes bust because they want to keep their jobs and grow expensive programs for their political base.
In 2011, RedState conservative blogger and Tea Party kingmaker Erik Erickson seized on this line of thought. He hosted the “We are the 53 percent” blog, a response to the Occupy Wall Street blog “We are the 99 percent.” Erickson pushed the idea that the “makers” of the society who pay federal income taxes subsidize the 47 percent “takers” who don’t. The blog featured photos of citizen contributors holding up signs with versions of the one Erickson held up in his own “53 percent” selfie:
“I work 3 jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”
In his time out of office, which progressive bloggers in Colorado have dubbed “The Wilderness Years,” Beauprez played the part of Tea Party pundit. In different settings he said sharia law was creeping into the United States and into Colorado. He said Islamists had infiltrated the White House. He dabbled in the “birther movement” obsessed with the president’s birth certificate. He said climate change was a great hoax.
Beauprez was a player on the stage set by RedState, FoxNation, talk radio. That stage is still set and it hosts regular sell-out shows for the elderly, mostly white, very conservative demographic that votes in Republican primary elections and is still searching for the president’s birth certificate and the smoking gun research that proves climate change is a hoax. But now Beauprez has climbed down off that stage and onto another where he is already being forced to recast old lines and rework former routines.