You painted with a broad brush on that video leaked to Mother Jones. In one breath you referred to "the 47 percent" as Obama supporters you can't hope to win over. In the next, you called them people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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."
So far, at least, you haven't backed down, despite cringes among some supporters who conceded that the 47 percent includes people such as veterans, the elderly and the disabled - people who may have paid taxes most of their lives. Even Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand enthusiast you chose as your vice-presidential nominee, described your words as "obviously inarticulate."
Instead, you told Fox News, "This is a decision about the course of America, where we're going to head." Then you quickly tried to switch the subject to redistribution, quoting that word - code for "socialism" to your supporters - from a 14-year-old recording of Obama, then an Illinois state senator.
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot," Obama said then, according to NBC News.
So here's the thing, Governor. As a quarter-billionaire who hobnobs and fund-raises among your peers, you know this redistribution thing is hardly a new issue. And even most serious conservatives - if not the Randian fringe - have accepted its value.
The hard truth no one much likes to discuss is that we have vast disparities of wealth and income in America. And we have them thanks to a free-market system that we value because it gives everyone a chance to succeed but that we also know produces losers along with winners, plus lots of people between those extremes.
Look at it this way: As we learned Friday, you reported income of $13.7 million in 2011 - a year when the median U.S. household had earnings of $50,045, according to the Census Bureau. It would take that median household more than 270 years to earn as much.
Such vast disparities, and roiling debates about them, date back to the 19th century. Some worried that American industrialists, sometimes derided as "robber barons," might build their own version of European nobility.
I started my career at a newspaper founded by Joseph Pulitzer, whose platform warned against the dangers of "predatory plutocracy" and "predatory poverty." Similar warnings by Progressive Era leaders such as Teddy Roosevelt are among the reasons we've had income and inheritance taxes for nearly 100 years.
It's true that income taxes have remained a target of the far right. So have the nation's largest redistributive programs, Social Security and Medicare, though you and your party now promise to save and strengthen them, even if you disagree sharply with Democrats on how to reach that goal.
But the main program I'd like to bring up today is one you demonized in Boca, though not by name: the Earned Income Tax Credit, one of the main reasons, in addition to the economic slump, that "the 47 percent" has grown so large. Since the 1970s, it's been the centerpiece of a bipartisan effort to "make work pay" for the nation's worst-off workers. And it's become increasingly important as wage growth lags because of factors such as the decline of unions and the globalization of trade.
I know you're familiar with the EITC. When you were governor back in 2006, you touted its value in a news release: "Helping families enter the workforce is an essential element to ending their poverty."
That understanding is why the EITC has always drawn bipartisan support, says Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The EITC historically represents the melding of values that conservatives and liberals both emphasize," Marr says. "It's for people who work, and work hard, and do their best to raise their families."
Created in the 1970s and inspired by conservative economist Milton Friedman, the EITC has been expanded by Republicans and Democrats. Ronald Reagan, who signed an expansion in 1986's tax overhaul, called that bill "the best antipoverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress."
Since the early 1990s, the EITC has offered a small credit - enough to offset the Social Security payroll tax - for childless workers. But its main beneficiary is families with children, whose wage-earners can get credits of 34 to 45 cents for every dollar earned.
In 2012, a family earning at least $13,090 can get the EITC maximum - $5,236 with two children, or $5,891 with three or more. The credits begin phasing out at incomes above about $17,000, and vanish between $37,000 and $45,000, depending on family size.
Is the EITC "redistribution"? Absolutely - and so are child credits, the mortgage-interest deduction, and every other program that provides tax benefits or government dollars. For a practical person like you, Governor, the key question should be whether it achieves its goal better than alternatives.
Even if they don't pay income taxes, EITC recipients do pay local, state and other federal taxes. Above all, they're working - the best tool yet for fighting poverty, and one you should celebrate.
Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or email@example.com.