“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% 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 they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it…
Forget about what Mitt Romney really meant or whether his comment is insensitive to the middle and working classes. Forget whether the man behind the mask was finally revealed for all to see. You can even forget whether the numbers need to be fact checked.
The most important lesson to be gleaned from the most recent collective gasp of “Did that politician really say that?!” is the amazing power of implicit bias. (Implicit bias – also known as unconscious bias, subconscious bias, and hidden bias- our brain’s “mental shortcut reflex reaction” without our utilizing conscious thought. Basically, it is our immediate interpretation of something using past experience, social stereotypes, media images and the like.) The implicit bias in Romney’s statement is so profound that even the people most angered by Mr. Romney’s statement have fallen into the trap of attacking the “values” it reveals instead of the validity of the statement itself. By jumping into the combat zone, we risk missing the opportunity to examine what the comment says about how we collectively agreed, without question, to the implicit bias within the statement.
Implicit bias is powerful, and it is in full force in the phrase “dependent upon government.” The attacks on this comment as well as the defense of the comment both start with the implicit agreement that “dependent upon government” means dependence of a particular kind: dependence in contrast with independence and dependence as avoidance of enterprise. Let’s face it – the reaction to the comment is founded in our collective implicit bias, regardless of political affiliation, that people who are “dependent upon government” are people that are poor, disenfranchised, and struggling to make ends meet. Given this bias, the focus of the argument has been either to defend this group against attacks or accuse this group of being dependent by choice.
This bias prevents us from objectively analyzing the statement and asking two critical questions:
What does being dependent upon government really mean?
Who is not dependent upon government?