Mitt Romney is right in his views on Americans’ personal responsibility for their lives, but unfortunate in inferring he does not care about those who are dependent upon others for their welfare.
The controversial revelation, within the past few hours, of words he spoke at a private function some months ago will cause him some political damage but also will, for those who care to explore them more deeply, bring to the fore an important issue which may be the most important one in America today – taking responsibility, or not. The situation is complex in the extreme, and the fact that so many Americans are jobless, homeless and reliant on state handouts for survival is more to do with a failed economy and a growing sense of powerlessness in the face of state control than in being self-inflicted. It is so endemic now that many people feel hopeless of change and resigned to the belief that this reliance is a necessary and continuing way of life.
Romney’s words reminded me of the situation here in the UK, where an inter-generational dependency culture has been encouraged and which now is out of control, besides being unaffordable, and the present government is striving to rebalance the situation with increasing public support, particularly from taxpayers. What could not be spoken of ten years ago for fear of offending liberal thinkers is now widely accepted: men and women on welfare must be encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives, and it must not be more advantageous to be on benefits than to be in work.
In the US, as in the UK and elsewhere, it will not be easy to provide the conditions needed to enable more independency, and it may be that outside events will precipitate a change. Meanwhile, all political leaders confronting this serious economic and social situation have their duty to help their people to understand, strive for and practise personal responsibility as far as possible, whether they are wealthy or impoverished. This was Mitt Romney’s error – to imply he did not care. A President, above all, must care.