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Are 47% of Americans Government Moochers?

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A leaked video of remarks Republican nominee Mitt Romney made at a private fund-raising event set the Internet abuzz yesterday.

In the video, Romney described nearly half the country, or 47%, as people who won't "take responsibility for themselves," who are "dependent on government, who believe 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."

The remarks confirmed the belief of many Americans that Romney doesn't understand or care about people on the lower end of the income scale. And it also set off furious debate about whether Romney had simply "told the truth" or whether he doesn't actually understand the makeup of the country he lives in.

It's easy to be frustrated by (and worried about) the rise in the number of Americans who receive benefits from the government (here are 18 charts showing this trend). For one thing, it's depressing that so many Americans need benefits. Also, given the depth of our budget problems, if we can't figure out how to solve that problem, we're going to bankrupt ourselves. So Romney is right that this is a major issue and concern.

But there's a difference between trying to solve a major economic problem and demonizing those who are on the poorer end of the income scale. Whether inadvertently or not, Romney blamed Americans who are poor or old for being poor or old. Worse, he framed their financial status as the result of their personal character.

There are lots of jobs in this country that pay wages low enough that the people who do them won't pay much federal income tax. Entry level jobs across many industries, for example. Retail jobs, local service jobs, education jobs. Most of the people who do these jobs are taking full responsibility for themselves. They're also doing necessary work, working hard, and, in many cases, being successful.

So dismissing these 100+ million Americans as freeloaders who aren't taking responsibility for themselves is understandably offensive to a lot of people.

The idea of broadening the tax base, however, and reducing the income threshold at which Americans pay federal income tax, is sound. When people pay for something, they feel a sense of ownership and participation that they don't feel when it is just given to them. So if Republicans want to argue that everyone should pay something, that's an idea a lot of the country could probably get behind.

So this may be another case in which careless phrasing has gotten Romney in trouble. Regardless, the remarks won't likely help the Romney campaign.

SEE ALSO: 18 Charts Showing The Rise Of Government Dependence

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