Republicans are trying to brush off the revealing comments of presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but the fact is that they speak for themselves. Romney, who paid a tax rate of about 14 percent on his income, believes that the 47 percent of Americans who paid no income taxes are worth writing off.
In his own words, those Americans are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government is responsible for them, who believe 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."
With that, the man who would be president cast aside 148 million Americans who may be veterans or elderly, who work hard but make little money, who are out of work through no fault of their own - and who still all pay other federal and state taxes, just not a federal income tax.
And is if that weren't bad enough, Romney dismissed that 47 percent of the country as people whom he could never convince "they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
By his lights, 148 million Americans - 47 percent of the country's 314 million - are worthless. "My job," he said, "is not to worry about those people." Those 148 million people.
It better be his job if he wants to be elected. Some of those 47 percent, including the veterans and the elderly, are surely Republican, or independent and persuadable. Why would he be so careless as to write off seeking their votes? The only answer is that he truly believes what he said.
A president's job is to represent all Americans as best he can, not just those who elected him. He can try to persuade people to be more responsible - and there are many who are not - but as a matter of electoral politics, not to mention the presidential oath of office, a president must strive to serve the whole country.
Romney has simultaneously been standing by his remarks while trying to spin them, claiming, for example, that they help to define the philosophical choice voters will make in November. He contends that his comments differentiate him from President Obama who, he says, favors only big government.
It's an overstatement, but it is fair to say that Democrats are more likely to favor government programs that meet perceived needs than are Republicans, who generally prefer to let individuals and markets sort things out.
Even still, Romney's explanation, when you strip away the blather, is that his reckless comments help to define the difference between a president who says his job is to represent all Americans and a challenger who says he doesn't give a whit about 47 percent of the country. That's not a distinction to brag about.
As we've noted many times before, Obama is hardly above criticism. He has only occasionally demonstrated to the public the leadership Americans wanted and thought they would get from him. He comes to his re-election campaign with significant weaknesses. A credible candidate, one that Americans could trust to represent them, could defeat him.
If Romney is that candidate, he's not showing it.