Romney, Cicero, Democracy; and a note on Arab Spring


View 742 Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I first heard of this when I got a breathlessly worded note from a liberal friend:

Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters | Mother Jones

You are the one who called them "the stupid party". I am now forced to agree. How could they think this wouldn’t get out?

Mildly curious, I followed the link to find that the Awful Truth was that Romney had said

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

Romney went on: "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

It seemed to me a bit pessimistic, but given the context – a fund raiser with an audience that certainly didn’t include anyone who doesn’t pay income tax – it wasn’t particularly sensational to me. Why shouldn’t it “get out”? I can hope it’s not a true statement, and I suspect that Mr. Romney would agree with me on that, but painting dark pictures at a fund raiser is hardly political stupidity. Have you heard some of the things Mr. Obama has said in similar contexts?

I find it pessimistic because I have a better opinion of many of the welfare recipients than the statement implies.

We have for many years discussed the principle that ‘democracies endure until the people discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” Snopes came up with some hoohaw about how this was a false quote, but since I can’t remember who was supposedly quoted, or for that matter who is now supposed to have said it, I have forgotten the hoohaw. The question is, is it true?

The notion has been discussed among political philosophers from the time of Aristotle. A major concern of the Framers at the Convention of 1787 was how to form a constitutional republic which would prevent democracy, because a pure democracy would always opt to use government to ‘equalize’ the wealth. The sentiment that “there never was a democracy that did not commit suicide” was pretty well prevalent in Philadelphia during that hot summer when the Constitution was agreed to.

In those days everyone who thought much about the subject agreed that freedom is not free, free men are not equal, and equal men are not free; that establishing a democracy would be to set foot on a path to disaster.

Disraeli had this to say during the Parliamentary Reform debates in England:

If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of the public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of the public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence. You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.

I have published that observation from Disraeli before. Doubtless I will do so again. I have no great fondness for democracy and neither should the United States, nor, until recently, have we had.

Romney has said nothing that has not been said by thoughtful people through the life of this Republic. I disagree with this particular statement, but only because I do not think we are that far gone: I believe that we are near the point at which there is no return, but we have not quite reached it yet. I believe that of that near majority which receives entitlements, many do not so much think of themselves as victims, but as unfortunate; who would gladly seize an opportunity to get out of dependency and back to work, to a productive life, if only they had a chance, and many of them would agree that the election of Mr. Romney is in fact their best chance. I think others can be persuaded so.

California radio recently has featured advertisements – I would guess public service rather than paid, but perhaps paid – for CalFresh, which is the new California name for the Food Stamps program. A visit to its web site might be instructive: The United States pays for this program. According to the Huffington Post the number of people on food stamps struck a record high in November of 2011, and other sources indicate that another (later) new high was reached in July of this year. Eligibility for this kind of general assistance has been broadened repeatedly. One can cheer at this national generosity, but it is not mean spirited to point out that this is paid with tax money – worse, with borrowed money which must be repaid in future. One may presume that the Keynesians would approve, since the money is paid directly to people who will almost certainly spend it immediately, generally on necessities, but the evidence seems to indicate that this particular Keynesian spending program has not lifted the economy back on its feet – and it was hardly startling to find that Mr. Romney says that this can’t go on. We can’t continue spending more than we’ve got, no matter how noble the cause. It’s hardly startling that he would say that at a Florida fund raising dinner.

The number of persons receiving aid from the food stamp program is about 45 million. Add about 8 million on disability, and the total number receiving welfare benefits is about 50 million. The total number of Americans working is about 142 million. And the total number voting in the 2008 election was 132 million or about 57% of a 231 million voting age population.

We have no way to estimate what proportion of the welfare recipients vote. If they all did, they would amount to about a quarter of the voting age population. The working population amounts to a bit less than 2/3 the voting population. If they all voted, they would amount to about 1/5 of the voting population or something less than 40% of the number actually voting (in 2008). A sizable number, and one would assume that a majority of them will not vote for Mr. Romney, but that’s not assured: I know of at least two Food Stamp beneficiaries who have always voted Republican.

I am not sure what we can conclude from all this, but I do not assume that Mr. Romney’s remarks will change the results of the election. I do note the triumphalist tone to the liberal announcements and commentaries, but I think I detect a note of desperation in with the triumphalism. That could be due to rumors of a late poll showing that more Americans now consider themselves Republicans than did so in 2998; and 2008 did not turn out well for the Democrats.


I also have other mail on this subject, and perhaps this is more typical:

Tell the Truth and Get Raked Over the Coals


Mitt Romney is now being raked over the coals by a biased press for telling the truth.

There does not seem to be anything that is not true in what Romney said in the surreptitiously recorded video. It seems to me to be a good strategy to not concentrate your on that sector of the electorate since almost all of them are not likely to vote for Romney.

It has been obvious since the days of Neville Chamberlin, to anyone that has been attention, that a strategy of appeasement leads to grief. The Obama Administration has not been paying attention and is not going to start now.

Bob Holmes

But then anything Mr. Romney says will get him raked over the coals. This is September in a Presidential election year. Mr. Romney knew it was going to be hot before he went into the kitchen, and I doubt he is astonished at this development. So far as I can tell he intends to remain presidential, and were I he I would have little to say about this. Since I’m not him, I can comment. I’m not running for anything.

It is hardly a confession of a secret hatred for the Constitution to state the obvious about entitlements. Romney’s observations were not much different from those of the Framers in 1787, or of Cicero, or of Disraeli in 1832, and I doubt many voters will change their minds as a result.

The key to this election will be turnout, and unfortunately this may have some effect on that, but not much: the Democratic organizers will do their best to get their clients to the polls whatever the politicians say. The question is, can the Republicans play as good a ground game? They did in 2008. This year it will be even more important. Fund raising and ground game, and the history of the world may rest on the outcome. We do live in interesting times.


Arab Spring, Continued

I continue to think about the Middle East, but I have nothing important to add to the discussion. My policy would be disengagement from foreign entanglements, and particularly entanglements in the Middle East, and using some of the savings to invest in development of North American energy resources. I’d rather we had spent the money we spent in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1990 on a national equivalent of the TVA than how we did spend it – and yes I am very much aware that there are better ways to develop energy resources than to fund even a competent bureaucracy. But I’d rather do that than bleed it out into desert sands and wild mountains.

I can recommend by Victor Davis Hanson. I did not say I endorse his views; only that you will be better off from having read them if you haven’t already.


In that regard, each time we castigate a Rushdie, a Danish cartoonist, a U.S. soldier, or a nut like Terry Jones, we simply play into the hands of the Islamists. The latter are thrilled when American grandees look weak, desperate, and only too eager to fall over themselves in undermining their own singular Constitution and distancing themselves from their own values. Far better it would be to say, one time — and only one time: “We cherish and protect freedom of expression and abhor censorship and violence; if that bothers you, it bothers you.” End of story.


4. What Must Muslims Do?

It is not brain surgery to enter the modern world. Follow some South Koreans or Chileans around for a week with a video camera. Grow up and stop blaming those on whom you depend for everything from drilling bits to laptops. Adopt the now seemingly impossible: consensual government, a bill of rights, secular tolerance for religious diversity, gender equality, meritocracy, respect for science and empiricism, a free market, and a free press. In other words, join the 21st century.

Otherwise, Westerners must make themselves as immune from Middle East passions as is possible. In that context, not tapping vast new domestic finds of gas and oil on public lands is suicidal, given that such potential income and independence would soon make the Gulf irrelevant to our survival.  Let the Kuwaitis or the Iranians deal with the Chinese. Of course, elites warn us not to “overreact.” But overreacting, compared to the present radical appeasement, is the moderate, rational course.

As I said, worth your time.







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