MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And we are going to continue our conversation about this, with two respected analysts whom we turn to, from time to time. I spoke with them earlier. Mary Kate Cary is a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's now a blogger and columnist for "U.S. News & World Report." Maria Teresa Kumar is the president and CEO of Voto Latino. That's a nonpartisan group that encourages Latinos to get involved in the political process. Previously, she was an aide to the House Democratic Caucus.
Ladies, thanks so much for joining us once again.
MARIA TERESA KUMAR: Thanks for having us, Michel.
MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having us.
MARTIN: We're going to talk for a few minutes, take a break and come back; so let's just get started. Now, Mary Kate, just your gut reaction when you heard this. I do think it's important to point out that the Romney campaign has not disavowed these comments. They have not denied that they are authentic.
MARTIN: And I just think that's important for people who are maybe wondering about that. So your reaction.
CARY: My initial reaction was, this is suspicious timing - 50 days out from the election. And I think anytime the media hears the word secret tape and Romney, they just light their hair on fire and go into complete overdrive. He could've had a secret tape of him saying how much he loves his wife, and they would somehow turn that into: Mitt Romney's out of touch and bad at foreign policy.
MARTIN: But he hasn't denied the comment. So, so...
CARY: No, no. I think, you know, I was thinking today about the old McLaughlin group, when John McLaughlin would say to Morton Kondracke, more time? You have lurched into the truth. And I think he lurched into the truth. There is - it's an indisputable fact that 47 percent of tax filers don't pay federal income taxes, and that's a debate I think most Republicans would like to have. I don't have a problem with that.
MARTIN: Maria Teresa?
KUMAR: I think that it demonstrates that Mitt Romney really doesn't know the country he inhabits and doesn't - when you were talking about 47 percent that don't pay income tax, you're not talking about people who are not working. Oftentimes, you're talking about people who are holding two, three - two to three jobs. And oftentimes, they might be, actually, the people that are working for the very companies that he's outsourced. or he's sold. So it's a better understanding of Mitt Romney as he is, as a person. I don't think that this - he can easily dismiss this by a simple press release. He basically - it's his time to come out to the American people because people do want answers of what he meant with that 47 percent.
And it was back - very similar to what President Obama had to do back in 2008, with Jeremiah Wright. He had to have a conversation, and a speech, on race.And this is an opportunity for - again, for nominee Mitt Romney to come out and say, this is what I mean by the 47 percent. Again...
MARTIN: But you know, Mary Kate, I mean, David Brooks, the Republican columnist for the New York Times, makes the same point that Mary Teresa just made, which is that he's, number one, conflating a number of groups here, that this 47 percent applies to a lot of people and that many of these people are in Republican-leaning states. Many of these people are senior citizens.
I mean, he says, for example - I'll just read this to you - the paragraph. (Reading) 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.
Now, I'm conflating a couple of things here, which is...
MARTIN: ...people who pay income taxes - as Maria Teresa pointed out, many people who pay income taxes are working. They don't pay - they aren't paying taxes because they make too little to pay, but they pay other taxes. And he's talking about the other side of the conversation, people who receive government entitlements.
MARTIN: He says - so who - in essence, David Brooks is saying he doesn't really know what he's talking about.
CARY: I think - I think what's going on here - did you see Time magazine last week, One Nation Subsidized? It was the cover story and it was this reporter who goes through his day and dissects the trillions and trillions of dollars spent on everything from the water in our coffee to, you know, the cotton in our T-shirts, whatever. And some people find that comforting and reassuring. Some people find that unsustainable and scary because who on Earth is going to pay for all this?
So that's what I think Romney was going for is - you've got an era now of skyrocketing Social Security, Medicare, you know, entitlements, food stamps through the roof, one in six below the poverty line, 23 million unemployed. Who is going to pay for all this? And we have a smaller and smaller minority of people who are paying for it and that is not sustainable or healthy for a democracy.
KUMAR: Right. But when you start...
MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back...
MARTIN: ...we'll go right to you, Maria Teresa. We're talking politics and that hidden camera video that's causing quite a stir in political circles. My guests are Mary Kate Cary and Maria Teresa Kumar. I'd like you to stay with us as we take a short break and, when we come back, we'll take a look at some other issues that emerged in this video. Please, stay with us. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.