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47 Percenters and Guerrilla Decontextualization (Part 1 of 3): Dreams and Nightmares
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Reuters photograph of Mitt Romney by Jim Young.


Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at this point can claim with some justification that the media’s treatment of his “47 percent” comments, made at a private fundraiser in May in Florida, fall solidly in the category of guerrilla decontextualization.

Yet, of all those powerful men and women who might have flocked to Mr. Romney’s defense in the wake of the PR nightmare that followed, only his running mate Paul Ryan did so with any kind of half-way convincing persuasive immediacy. Many former allies of Mr. Romney are now in fact performing that odd horizontal shuffle called “distancing” that politicians sometimes do so well when the word “stigma” threatens to attach itself to a colleague.  Such tends to be the case whether said colleague is wealthy, powerful, handsome, ugly, or none of the above.

Humble and Private Lives Made Public

Many have already interpreted this horizontal shuffle of distancing as an attempt by other Republicans to save themselves from drowning in the whirlpool of political backlash created by Mr. Romney’s remarks. Simpler folks might see it as a case of “what goes around comes around.” In this instance, it may be said that the presidential candidate himself cast the first stone of guerrilla decontextualization at the 47 percent of Americans he so passionately characterized in the following manner:


“…There are 47 percent who are with him [Barack Obama], 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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them… And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Those remarks at this point have gone beyond viral, and whether or not they are referenced during the forthcoming election campaign debate they have apparently made their way straight into the hearts of those supposedly described. But not at all in a good way. The people to whom the increasingly popular term “47 Percenters” might be applied previously viewed their world in a very different light from the one suddenly shined upon their humble and private lives.

“Social Piranhas” and Such

Following Mr. Romney’s redefinition of who and what they are, they suddenly needed to identify themselves not as a demographic, talking point, or ordinary citizens in pursuit of the American dream but as: retired workers, single parents, military veterans, wounded veterans, men and women in combat, Social Security recipients, people on unemployment struggling to get off it, college students, workers whose modest earnings exempt them from paying federal income taxes, diligent contributors to payroll taxes, and numerous others.

Even various public figures––like CNN’s John King––weighed in with stories of how they or their parents for a time had been dependent on public assistance but did not feel they were “social piranhas, “ as some have paraphrased Romney’s words,  because of it.  

Part of the definition of guerrilla decontextualization is the attempt to intentionally misrepresent an individual’s character or intentions for purpose of decreasing any measure of influence or authority they might possess in either public or private circles. Hence: the popularity of such a technique among battling politicians.

NEXT: 47 Percenters and Guerrilla Decontextualization (Part 2 of 3): Barack Obama

by Aberjhani