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A few years ago, during the 2008 election campaign, I had an encounter with what until today I considered the Neanderthal wing of the Republican Party. On my way home from an early morning run, I came upon an elderly man in the act of stealing the Obama-Biden sign in my front yard. I called to him to stop, whereupon he tucked the plastic sign in his orange hoodie and took off running. I followed him to his home a couple of blocks from my house. He was standing in the yard by the time I got there, no sign in evidence. He heartily denied taking anything; he was, he informed me, a veteran who would never think of violating anyone’s free speech rights by stealing a sign.

Although I’d seen him take the sign with my own two eyes, I decided not to pursue the issue further since the old guy struck me as a bit pathetic. However, when I appeared to accept his story,  he immediately offered to show me evidence that I shouldn’t support Obama – he had incontrovertible emails, he said, proving that Obama was a secret Muslim whose candidacy was part of a dangerous conspiracy. My negative response elicited the statement that I was probably nothing more than a welfare recipient with my hand out. Lazy moochers with their hands out were the only types of people, he confidently asserted, who supported Obama.

Let me say here, I’m a middle-aged white woman. I’m not wealthy, but my home is comparable with those in my middle-class West St. Louis County neighborhood, including that of the man accusing me of living off his tax dollars. The thief was retired, as am I, but where I am waiting to collect Social Security until after my husband retires (a husband, by the way, who leaves for work every day), he assured me he was getting every cent he was entitled to. And yes, I (we, actually) pay taxes.

At the time I just laughed and lumped this bit of right-wing bigotry together with other  prejudices common among many Americans, prejudices that allow, for example, my elderly Mother-in law to claim that a family she knows who receive various types of assistance are welfare cheats because they have a television set and the teen-age son has a cell phone. One shrugs and accepts the fact that some folks prefer not to think when they’ve got a simple script they can use to interpret reality – no matter how reality itself may contradict their stereotypes.

Or at least that was my belief until yesterday when the well-educated, sophisticated, and wealthy Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney, made basically the same claim as my pathetically ignorant and presumptuous neighbor. Numerous commentators have already exposed the sloppiness inherent in Romney’s claim as well as its essential falsity. Others have pointed out that the “moochers” are more likely to support Romney than Obama. Not only are a third of the 47% Romney disavows those elderly folks, a significant number of whom are scared silly, or at least mightily offended, by the black man in the White House, but government assistance programs demonstrably benefit red states far more than blue. By Wonkblog‘s Dylan Matthews’ count, Romney will probably get 95 electoral votes from “moocher” states, while Obama will get only 5. And of course, there’s the ca. 7000 millionaires who pay no taxes. They may be “dependent” on tax subsidies, etc. but do you really think they mostlly vote for Obama?

What’s really appalling, though, about Romney’s nasty pandering is what it says about today’s Republican Party. The Romney campaign has already explicitly confirmed our suspicions that GOPland is a fact free zone, most famously when a staffer declared that factcheckers weren’t running the campaign. Even more glaring than this arrogance is the blinding stupidity behind this latest Romney foot-in-mouther.

We actually have as a candidate for President of the United States a man who can’t be bothered to get his facts straight and who feels comfortable playing upon ignorant prejudices while dismissing half the citizens of the country he aspires to lead. What Romney’s latest gaffe, if that isn’t too weak a word,  demonstrates is simply that there is no Neanderthal wing of the Republican party. There’s just the Neanderthals.