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The Biggest Mistake in Romney’s “47%” Remarks

When Mitt Romney — echoing the writings of novelist Ayn Rand — tells us that half of Americans choose dependency, he reinforces one of the biggest myths in America: the idea that we have to choose. We have to choose between the “individualism” of a Romney/Rand and the “socialism” of an Obama. We have to choose between unleashing personal ambition or nurturing community.

The individual or the community... what a choice!

The notion of competition between these goods comes through many voices, though. E.J. Dionne, esteemed columnist for the Washington Post, earlier this year released Our Divided Political Heart, a title unfortunately reinforcing the assumption of a national cleavage. Dionne writes about the two “sides of our character,” noting that “we are a nation of private striving and public engagement, of rights and responsibilities.”

And many see this tension in how we understand America’s beginning — some viewing our Founders as protectors of individual liberty against an oppressive King, and, then, the state, while others viewing them as celebrators of public service who called fellow citizens to sacrifice for the common good, our beloved young country.

Moreover, in the dominant view of ourselves, most of us have chosen. In 2011, about 32 percent of Americans polled supported the Tea Party, with its emphasis on “what’s mine” and i