1.1.1 Romney’s 47%

For practice, let’s apply the logical analysis I described in post 1.1 Truth Value vs Truth to Mitt Romney’s famous “47%” speech. (The transcript appears at the bottom of this post.) In September 2012, when he was running for President against incumbent Barack Obama, Romney spoke at a private fundraising event in Boca Raton, Florida. Among other things, he stated: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what….  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…. These are people who pay no income tax.” I will use this remarkable speech to illustrate many principles in this blog. Today we are focusing on this neat “if p then q” trick. This will help you decide for yourself if what he is saying could be true, must be true, or can’t be true — or is just nonsense.

But how? He didn’t make any “If-Then” statements. No, but he did make a bunch of assertions. Remember, in a conditional, the “p” sets a condition which, if true, implies that “q” is also true. Mr. Romney’s statements do make such connections. If you are careful and responsible, you can re-arrange his statements into the “If-Then” form and use the tools of logic to examine their truth value. How about this:

“If you are a person who pays no income tax, then you believe you are entitled to health care.”

When I did this, I was careful to leave the speaker’s words completely intact, as much as possible. It is important not to change the sense or tense. You must resist the urge to make judgments or interpretations. Just place the speaker’s own clauses into the simple p->q format. Now apply the rules of article 1.1 Truth Value vs Truth:

Condition:

“If you are a person who pays no income tax, then you believe you are entitled to health care.”

Converse:

“If you are a person who pays income tax, then you do not believe you are entitled to health care.” It seems to me more probable that if you paid some taxes, you would feel entitled to get something back for them. So I am inclined to regard this as False.

Inverse:

“If you believe you are entitled to health care, then you are a person who pays no income tax.” This seems False to me for the same reason as the Converse, which is expected: if the Conditional is sound, the Converse and Inverse will have the same truth value.

Contrapositive:

“If you do not believe you are entitled to health care, then you are a person who pays income tax.” Clearly False. I can conceive of no plausible connection between a person’s private beliefs and their tax status.

If a conditional makes any sense at all, then it will have the same truth value as its Contrapositive, and its Converse and Inverse will also have the same truth value. In this case, the Converse, Inverse and Contrapositive all appear to be False, so it is safe to conclude the Condition is False. This technique reveals that there may be no causal connection between being a person who pays no income tax and the various traits Mr. Romney attributes to these people. If you see it differently, please explain in the comments. This of course is not a debate of tax policy; it is an example of the logic of conditionals.

Homework:

  1. Pick some of the other traits in Mr. Romney’s speech (“…believe that they are victims…”,”…will vote for the President no matter what…”), run the same test, and see if there is a causal connection with tax status.
  2. The conditional I gave in the above example could be negated differently. Compare the Converse above with this Converse:

“If you are not a person who pays no income tax, then you believe you are not entitled to health care.”

Does it make a difference in your analysis if you phrase it this way?

47-percent

Romney: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, he starts off with a huge number.
These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people.
I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.
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