Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney defended remarks rejecting nearly half of Americans as lazy people who think they deserve government handouts. The blunt remarks at a private fundraiser in May were "not elegantly stated," Romney told reporters in a hastily called Monday night news conference in Costa Mesa, Calif., where he was attending a fundraiser. But they addressed "a question about direction for the country," he said.
The question is, "Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?" he told reporters.
"We have a very different approach, the president and I, between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams," Romney said.
In the video, posted online by Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, Romney says, "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 healthcare, 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," Romney says in the video.
"These are people who pay no income tax," Romney says. "Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years.
"And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other, depending upon, in some cases, emotion -- whether they like the guy or not."
The author of the Mother Jones article told The Washington Post the fundraiser took place May 17, in Boca Raton, Fla., at a the home of Marc Leder, co-chief executive officer of Sun Capital Partners Inc., a private investment firm focused on leveraged buyouts, equity, debt and other investments.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement Monday evening it was "shocking" Romney would "go behind closed doors" to describe nearly half of the country the way he did.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," Messina's statement said.
Obama himself was accused similarly of offering a broad and unflattering characterization of voters April 6, 2008, also during a fundraiser, when he said people in rural Pennsylvania, bitter over economic circumstances, "cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them" to explain their frustrations.
In the video, Romney also predicts stock markets would likely rise if he wins in November.
"There will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country," he says. "We'll see capital come back and we'll see -- without actually doing anything -- we'll actually get a boost in the economy."
In an audio clip of the same fundraiser, Romney jokes he would have had an easier time winning the election if his father had been born to Mexican parents.
"My dad, as you probably know, was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company," Romney says in the clip. "But he was born in Mexico and, uh, had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this, but he was not," as the crowd laughs.
"But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico," Romney says. "He lived there for a number of years. And, uh, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be, uh, Latino."
The recordings surfaced on the same day the Romney campaign pledged more specific policy details and rolled out a set of new TV ads.
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