All the talk about this presidential election being one of the most important in American history isn’t just hype.

The contrasts between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are so sharp, the outcome of their battle could forever change what this country represents.

Romney has been trying hard to portray Obama’s policies as being radical and far from the ideals represented in this nation’s history, but it is his recent comments about redistributing wealth that have many people wondering if the America he envisions is really what they want.

The Republican nominee upset even members of his own party with last week’s release of a surreptitiously made video of him making remarks that seemed to disparage the poor during a $50,000-a-plate fund-raiser in May hosted by Philadelphia 76ers’ co-owner Marc J. Leder at his mansion in Boca Raton, Fla.

Noting that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes, Romney called them “victims” who have become dependents of the government. “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The backlash was immediate and strong. Romney apparently never considered that nearly a third of the people who don’t pay income taxes do pay payroll and other taxes. In other words, they work; they’re not sitting around waiting for government bailouts. Most of the rest who don’t pay federal income taxes are either elderly or poor, or both — and some of them are Republicans.

Attempting to deflect a storm of criticism, Romney said he believes in an America “where government steps in to help those that are in need.” But he then seemed to contradict that position by dragging up an audiotape from 14 years ago at a Chicago forum where then-State Sen. Barack Obama said he believed in income redistribution, “at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

“I disagree,” Romney told Fox News on Tuesday. But if that’s so, how does he expect government to “step in” to help the needy? Does he want government to limit itself to offering friendly advice?

Without a redistribution of income through taxation, which pays for Medicaid, Pell Grants, small-business loans, veterans benefits, food stamps, etc., what kind of nation would this be? Much of that type of assistance is meant to be temporary, provided mostly to get a family through a rough patch or give a young person a chance to excel.

That Romney uses redistribution as if it were an obscene word again suggests his campaign is in the thrall of antitax acolytes of the late Ayn Rand, who believed government punishes the rich by confiscating their wealth to help people who otherwise would be working harder. That philosophy doesn’t sit well with Americans who believe there are times when government is the right tool to help people help themselves.

Who wins this presidential election will determine which philosophy prevails, and what type of nation this should be.

Editorial by the Philadelphia Inquirer

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