Mitt Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee on Wednesday tried to shift attention off the GOP nominee’s secretly taped remarks at a private fund-raiser and onto comments Barack Obama made 14 years ago about his belief in income redistribution, hammering the president on the stump and in a new ad.
During a conference at Loyola University on Oct. 19, 1998, Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, talked about the need to “resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective” in aiding poor working families and said, “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”
A YouTube user with the screen name “nick cruz” posted audio of Obama’s remarks on Tuesday, and Romney quickly began to spotlight the recording while defending what he called “inelegant” comments about people who do not pay federal income taxes, made on May 17 at a $50,000-per-plate fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Fla.
Romney accurately ballparked non-payers as 47 percent of the country and described them as people “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney added.
Romney was unwittingly filmed as he spoke, and footage of his remarks was posted online Monday and Tuesday by the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
Asked during an appearance on Fox News Tuesday to respond to criticism of his comments, Romney pointed to Obama’s words at Loyola.
“Frankly, we have two very different views about America,” Romney said. “The president’s view is one of a larger government. There’s a tape that just came out today where the president is saying he likes redistribution. I disagree.”
Redistribution of wealth is the foundation of the nation’s welfare state and its progressive tax code. Wealthier Americans pay higher taxes to support programs for poorer ones, like Medicaid and food stamps, or to allow others to pay lower taxes and keep more of their modest incomes.
But Romney argues that Obama has taken the principle of redistribution too far, accusing the president of attacking success and creating an entitlement society where handouts have replaced hard work.
The Republican National Committee featured a snippet of Obama’s remarks at Loyola—“I actually believe in redistribution”—in an ad released on Wednesday.
“President Obama simply does not understand what it takes to get our economy moving again,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “He believes that redistributing wealth is what made the American economy work. President Obama is dead wrong. The secret to success in this country is unleashing the American entrepreneur and small business, not making it harder for them to grow with higher taxes, more regulation, and constant demonization.”
Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, delivered a similar message while campaigning in Danville, Va.
“President Obama said that he believes in redistribution. Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth,” Ryan said. “Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth. Efforts that promote hard work and personal responsibility over government dependency are what have made this economy the envy of the world.”
Responding to the Republican attacks, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kramer said redistribution “is exactly what [Ryan] and Mitt Romney are proposing to do if elected,” suggesting “the Romney-Ryan plan would actually raise taxes on the middle class by cutting deductions like those for mortgage interest and charitable contributions in order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires.”
Romney has pledged not to cut the mortgage interest deduction for middle-class Americans, and some studies indicate the GOP tax plan would not necessarily result in net tax increases for low- and middle-wage earners.
But other analysts have concluded Romney’s plan would likely hike taxes on those of modest means while shrinking tax bills for the affluent.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.