We’re a Nation of Makers and Takers, Including Romney — and Me

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I try not to get worked up about politics, but I hate the Tea Party delusion that we’ve become a nation that is split between makers and takers. It’s the false idea that Mitt Romney, who probably doesn’t believe it, parroted in that cringeworthy video to suck up to wealthy donors who do. The point of my Sept. 17 TIME cover story, aside from getting pictures of my kids and dogs in the magazine, was to show that most Americans are makers and takers, including me. But we’re proud of our making and blind to our taking, which is why appeals to the 53% — minus Romney’s gross I-got-mine attacks on families who think they’re entitled to eat — have some political appeal. Most of the alleged moochers in the 47% — seniors, disabled veterans, the working poor — don’t even realize they’re part of it. They understandably assume politicians must be talking about some other moochers, because they don’t feel like moochers.

(PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney)

I really hope the stir over Romney’s political snuff film will help end the slur that half the country pays no taxes. As many political reporters who never bothered to correct that nonsense when it wasn’t part of a “gaffe” are finally pointing out, the 47% of Americans who don’t pay something imprecisely called income taxes do cough up payroll taxes on their income as well as state and local taxes, gas taxes, sales taxes and other taxes. And most of us cough up more than the 13% of Romney’s (unearned!) income that he paid in 2011 while running for President. It’s hard to say if we pay more than Romney did before that, because, well, you know.

It’s good to see a broader recognition that most of us are makers and that most of the nonmakers are seniors on Social Security and Medicare. What I tried to show in the article is that we’re takers too, even those of us with a comfortable income. We benefit not only from publicly subsidized roads, water, electricity, schools, trash collection, police protection, national defense and, in my case, tennis courts but also lucrative tax advantages for our mortgage interest, health care, child care, 401(k)s, business expenses and, in some cases, dressage costs. Some Americans who work in the financial sector enjoy lucrative tax breaks for their “carried interest,” but of course it’s impossible to know without seeing their returns.

I hope you’ll read the article; it’s even more relevant today, although I’m heartbroken to report that one of those hyperactive unsubsidized Boston terriers, our beloved Shamu, died last weekend after his star turn. I hope Romney’s nasty comments will attract more attention to that crazy, irritating, theatrical, soulful, unbelievably wonderful dog scavenging under the chair. RIP, Shampers. We miss you terribly.

(LIST: All Campaign Gaffes from 2008)

But back to Romney. I doubt he really believes those obnoxious things he said; his political career would suggest that he was just saying what he thought his audience wanted to hear. That said, it doesn’t really matter what he honestly believes if he feels he has to do what his audience wants. It’s hard to imagine a President Romney standing up to the Tea Party and his wealthy donors. In any case, this should calm the latest furor over his supposedly inept staff, which, as I’ve argued in the past, is doing a pretty impressive job with an inept candidate. You can’t blame that awful video on Stuart Stevens.