Argument Summary and Analysis- Defining, not realigning: Romney’s 47 per cent victim gaffe by Joshua Tucker

by Jennifer Carter, James! Polhemus, and Bekah Hogue

This article by Joshua Tucker focuses on Mitt Romney’s use of the number 47. Specifically, however, it discusses what he believes about that percentage of Americans:”[They] believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it”; and how he revises this statement promoting the ability of people to “pursue their dreams”.

The article then raises the argument that in order for a country to be successful and productive we the benefits those “47” feel they are entitled to should be “ensured”. These benefits are “the prerequisites” to having a productive country and these “prerequisites” are necessary for “our society to meet its true potential”.  Regarding Romney’s disapproval of rising food stamps, the article claims the rise in food stamp is ensuring that the children of the county are fueled enough so they can reach their potential.

The article compares this statement to President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” gaffe, particularly in how the opposing party can capitalize on this to garner support.   According to research compiled by John Sides, gaffes tend to have little effect on public opinion polls.  Of the three major gaffes of this campaign season – “the private sector is doing fine”, “you didn’t build that”, and Romney’s Libya remarks – only the latter has shown any real shift in opinion (and even then, a lot of that shift is because Obama lost his post-Convention high).

However, Tucker’s argument is hurt by his the way he arranges it.  While it’s not a mistake to acknowledge the counterpoint to one’s own argument, Tucker never really gets around to refuting it.  Instead, Tucker devotes about the last third of his argument to stating how the gaffe might have no effect on the Romney campaign, complete with an illustration demonstrating that.

Furthermore, that graph is sandwiched between two very different, possibly opposing statements:

All that being said, it would be a mistake to overestimate the potential that this gaffe has to fundamentally reshape the election.


The bottom line: Romney has once again demonstrated the ability to be his own campaign’s worst enemy.

Tucker fails to support his argument that Mitt Romney has really fucked up his campaign in the latter portion of this article.  Instead, he goes into his conclusion with the audience thinking that the 47% gaffe will not hurt his support.  In other words, Tucker has proven to be his own argument’s worst enemy.

In addition, the argument that Tucker initially begins with comes off as weak. He uses a specific quote from Romney’s video and the revision Romney made and essentially runs with it, disregarding the meaning of the entire “speech” as a whole. Tucker argues for the importance of “prerequisites” such as food stamps and housing based on children’s needs, stating that the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs may be one of those children. But Romney is not addressing the next generation. These children Tucker refers to are not part of that 47% he addresses.  Rather, Romney’s statistic (regardless of how accurate it is) only refers to the electorate.  While one may see the line of thinking that would lead to Tucker talking about children, we feel it is still an unfair extrapolation on his behalf and shamelessly pandering to his audience’s ethos.

Source Analysis:

Romney Video and Mother Jones article– Video and accompanying article as first presented by Mother Jones magazine. What started it all.

Bloomberg Businessweek article–  Tucker cites a quote from Obama campaign manager that is included in this article.  The article itself is an account of the fallout on both sides resulting from the release of the video, as well as a report on the goings on of both campaigns.  The article is fairly straightforward with little bias and a very ‘newsy’ feel.

Newsday article– This AP article on the Newsday Website gives another account of the response to the Romney video, notably pointing out that though this is big news now, it probably won’t make a big impact on the actual election.  Interestingly, this article cites many negative Republican responses to both the video and Romney’s campaign in general.  Tucker uses this article as a source when he claims that Democrats have not ruled out using the Mother Jones video in campaign ads, though I did not see that mentioned when I read through it.  The article does, however, mention that the comments were referenced in a fundraising appeal emailed by the Obama campaign.

Politico article–  This source cites statements Romney made in defense of the remarks made in the video.  The full article details Romney’s response to the remarks and gives background information on how the reporter was able to film them at all.

Yahoo News/Reuters article– Part of Tucker’s argument is that Romney is taking the wrong point of view on many of what he sees as Obama’s problems or mistakes.  Tucker cites this early September article detailing Romney’s critical view of the rise in the use of food stamps during Obama’s first term and then gives readers another way to look at the issue.  This article details Romney’s comments supporting his opinion that the U.S. economy is not better off than where it was when Obama took office because the national debt and number of citizens using food stamps have grown to record numbers.  The article mostly reports Romney’s statements and contextualizes them, giving little of the writers commentary.

MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) News article- This article was published September 17 about residual fallout from Obama’s July 13th “you didn’t build that” speech.  The article summarizes and episode of The Daily Circuit radio program where callers discussed the meaning of Obama’s words and both sides of the controversy surrounding them.

Bloomberg Opinion article– Tucker cites an opinion piece by Josh Barro in which he predicts that the comments contained in the Mother Jones video have killed Romney’s bid for president.

John Sides and The Monkey Cage- Tucker ends his article with the concession that these comments might not be as inflammatory as they’re cracked up to be, and cites a colleague, John Sides, as evidence.  He links to Side’s personal webpage and his blog, The Monkey Cage, to establish his credibility and then cites an article he authored detailing how campaign gaffes really have little discernible impact on the overall results in an election.


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