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When Mother Jones published a video of comments by Mitt Romney at a private upscale fundraising dinner about the 47 percent

of the electorate who would never vote for 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 health care, to food, to housing, to youname-it and (the payoff)who pay no income taxesNew York Times columnist Ross Douthat asked whether these comments were a window into the elusive real Romney and proof that his moderate-seeming faade has always been a sham? Douthats answer to his own question was Who could possibly know? Romney has built his career, in business as in politics, on telling people what they want to hear in order to persuade them to let him manage their affairs. This is a man who tried to get to the left of Ted Kennedy in their 1994 Senate race and to the right of Rick Perry in 2012. The idea that he would reveal his true political beliefs to a group of people hes trying to flatter, cajole and spook into giving him more money may be appealing to his critics, but it isnt necessarily convincing. That answer made sense to me. Throughout his long campaign for the Republican presidential nomination and for the presidency itself, Romney took so many different positions that they were referred to as etch-a-sketches. In the first Presidential debate on October 3, 2012, Romney introduced a brand new sketch in an effort to flatter, cajole and spook potential voters tuned into the debate into voting for him as a moderate. And Douthat was one of those who were flattered, cajoled or spooked. As he saw it, Romney might just have become the effective leader of the leaderless Republican party by channeling the bases passions in a constructive direction and by reinterpreting the partys ideology to meet the challenges of the present day. Thats quite a accomplishment for an etch-a-sketchtransforming Romney from someone whom no one could possibly know what he stood for into a party leader. But Douthats only question, as we head into the final four weeks of the campaign, is whether [this new sketch came] a little bit too late. According to the polls, maybe not. Nate Silvers Five Thirty Eight blog showed Obama free-falling from an 87-to-13 favorite to win the election on October 4 to a 61-to-39 favorite on October 12. Evidently a lot of the polled electorate did their own Douthat flip, suddenly willing after an hour and a half debate to trust a candidate whom they had never trusted before. This election is a rarity in that the core issue that has divided the country since the passing of the New Deals Social Security Actwhether it is a proper role of the federal government to provide social insurance (aka entitlements) to its peopleis pretty much the explicit core issue of the campaign. In past campaigns the issue has been buried beneath symbolic issues such as whether government is too big or taxes are too high. And so it might have been this year until Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.

Ryan is the author of two successive budgets adopted by all Republicans in the House of Representatives and supported by all Republican Senators. If Democrats had not blocked them, both budgets would have eviscerated Medicare and Medicaid, enacted in 1965 by the Johnson administration, leaving Social Security (one has reason to suspect) for future dismembering. And both Romney and Ryan have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 by the Obama administration. A vote for Romney and Ryan in the 2012 election is a vote for the Republican party and a vote to take down the social insurance programs. The Republican party in Congress cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. These rich contributors care about not having their taxes raised or their activities regulated or their being prevented from obtaining monopoly profits. Theyre rent-seekers, seeking to profit from activities that dont add to the economy but do increase their share of it, rather than free-market capitalists. They thrive not on fair and open competition but on preferential treatment from Congress and especially the Republican party. Nor are they friends of small businesses, which represent potential competitors. The Republicans rich contributors may be more interested in privatizing the social insurance programs than in taking them apart, since privatizing creates new rent opportunities with all risks borne by the insured or the federal government. But if privatizing is not a viable option, the Republican party in Congress is on record (by voting for the Ryan budgets) as favoring the weakening or eliminating of social insurance to make sure that taxes will never have to be raised on their rich contributors. At the opposite end of the Republican base are the newly self-described Tea Partiers, mostly aging white male workers who partake of government benefits (as have 96% of Americans at some point in their life), often without being aware of their source, but dont believe that the government should provide benefits for those they perceive as not having earned themlike Romneys 47%. Their views can be quite stark. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was recently taken aback by how many readers of his column about his uninsured, dying former roommate were savagely unsympathetic. Speaking personally, I cannot deny the legitimacy of the Tea Partiers lack of sympathy or political views, although Im of the opposite persuasion and always have been. But like many others I can point out the one-sidedness of Romneys emphasis on who pays federal income taxes. Counting all taxes, state and local as well as federal, and payroll, sales, gasoline and property taxes along with income taxes, all Americans pay taxes. And the share paid by the lower 40% or 60% or 99% relative to their income is not much different than what the top 1% pays. In 2010, the 1% claimed just over one-fifth of all income and paid 21% of all taxes, which amounted to 30% of their income. The 99% claimed just under four-fifths of all income and paid 78% of all taxes, which amounted to 28% of their income. Wheres the beef? Whatever the disappointments of the Obama administration, this election is about preserving social insurance or getting rid of it, which will depend on whether the Republicans in Washington have the power to get rid of it or the Democrats have the power to preserve it. Ignore third parties, outlier views and issues not at issue in the campaign (such as the Afghan War or climate change) until after the

election next month. This is the 99%s election to win, if only they get out and vote. Im not sure which way theyll choose on social insurance, but Ill trust their judgment far more than the 1%s.