Romney went on the attack against the 47% of Americans who Romney thinks support Obama and are dependent on government.
Entitlements have indeed run amuck. Who are these greedy people disproportionately feeding at the public trough?
No, it's not mainly the ultra-poor, nor is it mainly the middle class earning below $100,000/year.
Tax preferences are give-aways from the government to certain people who qualify. The wealthy have legions of lawyers and lobbyists to create a labyrinth of loopholes for the benefit of their few. Here's one example, the average tax deduction—subsidy!—given by the government, broken down by income group.
The federal government is helping rich people pay their mortgages on large primary homes (plus their vacation homes), pay the premiums on worker-provided health insurance, accumulate wealth without taxes in sheltered retirement accounts, and many other tax preferences. It's a big handout. Romney's seems to think he deserves—is entitled to—this special treatment from government by nature of his economic class. I'd say he has become dependent on big government.
David Brooks notes that Americans, as a rule, are among the hardest working in the world. Many of those who do not earn enough to pay federal income taxes pay payroll and other federal, state, and local taxes. In sum:
"[Romney's] comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn't know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?....
"The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor….
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other."
[UPDATE 9/19: John Stewart's staff discovered an old tape of Mitt Romney's mother, in which she disclosed that Mitt's father had been on welfare for several years when he first arrived to the U.S. from Mexico. Irony , paradox , and absurdity rolled into one.]