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Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Cyborg Mitt

WASHINGTON -- What's a day without a leaked video, a scandal, an unintended sliver of truth?
OMG: Mitt Romney doesn't care about the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes and therefore don't care much about his message of lower taxes.
Who. Knew?
Oh the umbrage, the unforced errors. How can we hand over the presidency to a man who cares so little about those who have no intention of voting for him?
Romney should know better. It's not as though there was no precedent for this sort of thing. Four years ago, Barack Obama spoke candidly at a similar "private" fundraiser in San Francisco, saying that small-town Pennsylvania voters expressed their economic frustrations by clinging "to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them."
A person running for president should keep his thinking cap more tightly affixed even when among his own kind, millionaires in Romney's case. And he should make sure his facts are right. Although true that nearly 47 percent don't pay income taxes, most do pay payroll taxes, as many have pointed out. Moreover, of the 18.1 percent of households that pay neither income nor payroll taxes, most are elderly or earn less than $20,000, according to the Tax Policy Center.
But it is also true that tax issues are of greater significance to those who see large chunks of income disappear from their checks each pay period. It's easy to decide how much others should pay for your support when it's not your money.
Still, Romney's comments sounded callous and merciless, and will haunt him through the election. They also revealed something we hadn't previously seen. Unguarded, Romney is no compassionate conservative. At his core, he is ... a cyborg.
The human part of him may hop out of bed in the middle of the night to comfort someone in distress. Such stories abound. But the mechanical Romney on display in the video is strictly pragmatic. Problem: How to win presidential election. Solution: Focus on economy and ignore those who don't pay any taxes.
But and alas, humans, not machines, vote and win elections. For good or ill, voters want their president to be caring if not paternal. Smart politicians return in kind: They hug strangers and pose for pictures; they kiss babies; the pros shed tears. In the absence of active tear ducts, the successful candidate has a sympathetic biography.
Romney is not that person. Dry-eyed and awkward, he was born lucky and seems to lack the empathy born of struggle.
It is factually true that those who receive government largesse are not wildly interested in a candidate who promises to cut entitlements, especially when he also wants to cut taxes for the rich. As Romney said, the entitled ones will never vote for him, so "my job is not to worry about those people."
Well, no, actually, this would not be his job as president, which, as everyone knows is also not what he meant. What he meant was he doesn't plan to focus resources on voters who will never embrace his message.
What was clearly wrong -- and perhaps telling -- is the notion that all those Americans are on the dole, willingly or that they consider themselves "victims," as Romney put it. Most of those people undoubtedly would love to have high-enough paying jobs to gripe about high taxes. Many would love to have jobs, period.
If only Cyborg Mitt had said it this way:
"I know that the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay any federal income tax are not going to be moved by my message of lower taxes. Heck, they need jobs and income before they can enjoy the problem of a high tax rate. Since I can't get their vote, I'm focusing on independents. But when I become president, my first priority will be to help all Americans get back to work so that everyone can contribute. I believe that most people would rather earn their own keep, care for their families, and enjoy the rewards of self-sufficiency."
Wouldn't even gazillionaires enjoy this bit of ideological largesse?
Based on my understanding of the man, this is likely what Human Romney believes and wishes he had said, but Machine Romney sees only numbers and problem-solving calculations. The immediate problem is how to win an election.
The issue going forth isn't whether voters' feelings are hurt. The question is whether the cyborg can see that the problems he's solving actually involve people.

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.


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