If 47 percent of Americans really were freeloaders, the way Mitt Romney suggests, don't you think the federal government would be a lot more than $16 trillion in debt?
And if Romney believes that 47 percent of Americans can be written off as automatic Obama votes, doesn't that show that the Republican nominee understands the electorate even less than he understands the real world most of us live in? It might make a terrific Rush Limbaugh rant, pretending nearly half the country is a bunch of fat slackers who sit around whining. And no doubt there are those among us who do precious little to earn their keep.
But the men who want to lead our nation should be leading a rational and essential conversation about cutting government excess without slashing the social safety net. Instead, Romney is on video from May spouting ill-informed mishmash that he after-the-fact claims is all about debating government's proper role. If only he were doing that.
The Heritage Foundation says more than 67 million Americans rely on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid and or other assistance, and the number's growing dangerously. (herit.ag/PE6TQ9) But it's a mistake to think they're all leeches expecting taxpayers to underwrite their dependence.
It's been widely reported that there are many reasons people don't pay income taxes, including that they qualify for tax breaks such as the Earned Income Credit and child tax credit.
Romney carelessly lumped together people who arguably are too dependent on government with older Americans who've earned their retirement, paid off their mortgages and use the Social Security they paid for. With young people studying toward degrees they've been told will help them achieve the American dream. With workers like the servers who were busing the tables at the private fundraiser where he was writing off people like them.
Even some mega-millionaires don't pay income tax: six of them, according to Internal Revenue Service data about the 400 returns listing the highest adjusted gross income for 2009 (a $202 million average), The New York Times reported.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center explains that even those who don't owe federal income tax frequently pay payroll and excise taxes, plus sales and property taxes and, except in Texas and a handful of other places, state income tax, too.
This isn't a contest between productive Americans and parasites.
Plenty of retirees across the political spectrum believe that government does owe them for what they put into the system all those hard-working years.
Military veterans and their families probably do believe that their country owes them healthcare and a decent life for the sacrifices they made - and they're right.
And taking part in government programs does not make someone a shiftless ingrate.
I'm not convinced that having the government loan qualifying parents money at lower interest rates is the best way to help families afford college. But the program was available when I needed it, and I'm dutifully paying the money back.
I dare say many Americans these days might feel like victims of circumstance or bad luck or a rotten economy. But they may well think government offers nowhere to turn because it's doing a terrible job of helping people like them.
There are hard questions these presidential candidates should be addressing - we, the people, need solutions.
The New York Times columnist David Brooks, a political conservative, on Monday called Romney "a kind, decent man" who's pretending to be "some sort of cartoonish government-hater." (nyti.ms/QVve74) A kind and decent candidate should give the impression that he cares about that 47 percent, even if he doesn't expect them to vote for him.
If he gets elected, he's going to have to govern them, too. And he'll want them on his side.
Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.