At least two important points are being missed in the discussion of Romney’s remarks. First, there’s a double standard at work. When reporters suggest that donors to Republican causes are motivated by self-interested desire to keep their taxes low and their businesses unhampered by environmental or labor regulations, that’s groundbreaking investigative journalism. (See, for example, The New Yorker magazine’s Jane Mayer on Charles and David Koch.) Yet when Romney suggests that Democratic voters might have been motivated by self-interest, his comments are condemned.

The second missed point is that Romney is hardly the first to suggest that voters might be swayed by the government benefits they are receiving. There’s an entire field of economics, known as public choice theory, devoted to the idea that, as the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics summarizes it, “people are guided chiefly by their own self-interests and…as such, voters ‘vote their pocketbooks,’ supporting candidates and ballot propositions they think will make them personally better off…Public choice, in other words, simply transfers the rational actor model of economic theory to the realm of politics.” …

The idea that voters might consider what’s in it for themselves, in other words, isn’t some screwball sour-grapes idea dreamt up by Mitt Romney as an excuse for his defeat. Rather, it’s been part of mainstream social science for decades.