Voting for the candidate most beneficial to your interests? How troubling.

In a sort of homage to his greatest hit, Mitt Romney complained that he lost because of President Obama’s “gifts” to  “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”

The use of the word “gifts” is interesting, but in a broader sense, Romney is correct in that these groups had reason to support Obama because his policies will make material improvements in their lives.  The number of people the President’s policies materially benefit is very large, whereas the number Romney’s policies–or, rather, what Romney’s policies were suspected to be, since he never told anyone–materially benefited was relatively small.  When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so good for old Willard Mitt, but that is effectively what he’s saying.

Indeed, when you look at it this way, the question really is: “how did Romney do so well in the election?”  Well, it’s the old What’s The Matter With Kansas? problem.  Some voters vote on issues other than their material interests.  Poor farmers vote Republican despite the Republican economic policies because they agree with Republicans on social issues.  The inability of the Democrats to get votes from such groups has long frustrated them.

To be completely fair, there are also people who would be materially advantaged by supporting Republicans, but who support Democrats anyway.  Paul Krugman and LeBron James are two good examples.  So, this runs both ways.  And neither the poor Republican farmers nor the rich Democratic celebrities are in any way behaving illogically.  They simply vote based on other issues than their personal finances.

It’s not new for Conservatives to complain about this sort of thing.  The radical writer Albert Jay Nock complained in the 1930s that F.D.R’s election was a “coup d’Etat effected… by purchase”.  It has also been said–I have not researched this, so I don’t know whether it’s true or not–that most New Deal spending went to what were at the time “swing states”, in order, so the accusation has it, to get F.D.R. re-elected.

To my eyes, Romney’s gripes are just a way of putting the worst imaginable spin on the normal functions of a Democratic Republic.  When the most you can do is say “those stupid voters–they support the candidates who gives them the most benefit”, it makes you look like you don’t quite get how this system works.  Of course, the Republicans always try to further spin this as if they are the party of wisdom and prudence, giving the country not what it wants, but what is better for it.  The Democrats, so they say, are spoiling the electorate, giving them candy instead of vegetables, as it were.

At least since Reagan, though, the Republicans have been as or more liberal in their spending as the Democrats.  And they also give “gifts” to their constituency–you pretty much will get nowhere in politics unless you do–but they made the mistake of having too small a constituency this time around.


  1. The Republicans have turned into the party which wants you to vote for *someone else’s* interests, which is why this development is so troubling for them. (And why they lost so bad this time around!)

What's your stake in this, cowboy?