09/19/2012 02:51 PM

The World from Berlin

'Who Wants an Amateur in the White House?'

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appears to have seriously damaged his chances of election with his comments about the "47 percent" of voters who are "dependent" on the state. German commentators are baffled by how a career politician could have made such an embarrassing gaffe.

Has Mitt Romney shot himself fatally in the foot? Many observers are wondering if the Republican presidential candidate can recover from the damage he has done to his own campaign with his remarks that almost half of Americans see themselves as "victims" and live off the state.

In the speech, which was secretly filmed at a $50,000-a-head fundraising event, Romney said that the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax would never vote for him. "There are 47 percent who are with (Obama), 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 you-name-it," Romney said in the recording, which was published Monday on the website of the magazine Mother Jones. He added that his role "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney tried to defend his remarks on Tuesday, telling Fox News that he knew those people who are "dependent on government" would not vote for him and calling the idea of government "redistribution" an "entirely foreign concept."

US President Barack Obama made political capital out of Romney's remarks in an appearance on David Letterman's late-night talk show. "One thing I've learnt as president is you represent the entire country," he said. "There are not a lot of people out there who think they are victims."

The race remains tight, however, ahead of the Nov. 6 election. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 47 percent of likely voters support Obama, with 46 percent backing Romney.

On Wednesday, German commentators analyze the impact of Romney's gaffe.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Sure, other candidates have also put their foot in it while talking in a supposedly intimate setting. Four years ago, Barack Obama, for example, talked disparagingly about white workers who desperately 'cling to guns or religion.' That comment still haunts the Democrats today …."

"But Romney's verbal blunders threaten to leave deeper scars. Even before the latest comments, the once-moderate Massachusetts governor was considered an opportunist. Three-fifths of his countrymen think he is a man who says what he thinks people want to hear instead of the truth. Even if Romney were now to apologize, people will not buy his remorse."

"Nevertheless, the election has not yet been decided. Romney still has three opportunities, in the form of the three TV debates with Barack Obama in October. Romney has to hope that many voters will only start paying close attention to him then. But he will be on his own. No touching speech by his wife or million-dollar donation will save him then. He has to help himself. Otherwise, he will soon join the ranks of those who he despises -- the losers."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The vote will be counted on the evening of Nov. 6, but it can already be predicted with a degree of reliability that Mitt Romney has lost the US presidential election. The former Massachusetts governor personally hammered the nail in the coffin of his political career when he told donors that 47 percent of Americans would vote for Barack Obama because they see themselves as 'victims' and rely on the state."

"Obama, too, has made his fair share of rhetorical blunders … but by excluding almost half of his compatriots from the American dream, Romney has insulted all those people in question. Romney's 'off-the-cuff speech' is not only quantitatively devastating, it is also qualitatively worse because it provides ammunition for the Democrats' charge that Romney wants to conduct politics for the benefit of the better-off."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"It's not very convincing if a presidential candidate who says he wants to revive the 'American dream' excludes almost half of voters right from the outset because they live on state aid anyway and are not willing to take responsibility for themselves. Mitt Romney may be right when he says that those people will not actually vote for him. Nevertheless, he committed a strategic blunder: Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush certainly gave the impression that they also cared about the fate of those whose lives could not be described as a success story."

"It will now be even easier for Obama's people to portray the Republican nominee as a rich man who will conduct politics on behalf of America's rich -- and as a man who commits gaffes and is therefore not capable of holding the country's highest office."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Of all the blunders that Mitt Romney has made in the current election campaign, this is the worst. We can ignore the fact that the Republican presidential candidate called the Olympic host Great Britain incapable or attacked the incumbent Barack Obama in sharp tones. But writing off one half of his own country's population? Now that's something. The candidate said that it was not his job to concern himself with the 47 percent of voters who supposedly rely on government assistance and are therefore Obama supporters. It's amazing how a politician can voluntarily brand himself as a cold-hearted capitalist."

"We Germans can already hardly understand why many Americans would prefer to vote for Romney. But if we now like to believe that he has stumbled, then that is wishful thinking on our part. The policies that we like -- the welfare state, universal health insurance, a foreign policy of rapprochement-- are the policies that Obama stands for. He is Europe's preferred candidate. But the political culture in parts of the US is different. It is more conservative, more religious, more skeptical about government and more focused on the individual. And some statements that would cause a scandal in Germany are only enough to cause a blip in the polls in the US."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"A professional politician would never make such comments publicly -- at most, they would talk about it in a small group -- but never at an event for donors, even if they paid $50,000 for their lunch. Yet this is what Mitt Romney did when he chatted all too openly in Florida a few months ago. Hence, it is less the content of his remarks and more the lack of professionalism that surprises us and gives us pause. After all, who wants an amateur in the White House who can't even keep his campaign under control?"

"This new scandal could spell the end of Romney, who is already notorious as a capitalist and cold-hearted millionaire. Five years after the Lehman bankruptcy, Americans don't need a president who divides society into the rich and those who live off the state. That also applies to Republican voters. After all, many of them don't pay any taxes."

-- David Gordon Smith


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