Friday, September 28, 2012

The Indictment of Mitt Romney

This indictment of Mitt Romney, raising questions about his fitness to serve as president of the United States, is past due. Of course, the simple fact of one’s unfitness to serve, would not prevent Romney from serving—one need only review the case of George W. Bush or, for that matter, the hallowed Ronald Reagan, who napped away at least the last half of his presidency while functionaries like Ollie North got away with murder.

But I digress. This indictment will frame the case against Romney based on his political flip-flops and prevarications, his mid-twentieth century air (far too retro for the challenges of our time), and the devastating simple-mindedness of his political program, at least insofar as it can be determined.

To make this case, the indictment will call upon the recent opinion pieces of several knowledgeable journalists and economists. It should be noted that the likely response from the Romney campaign to this indictment, other than studied indifference, will be to disparage both journalists and economists in sweeping terms.

No matter. Those who investigate and judge the particulars as outlined in this indictment will recognize that ad hominem attacks on the individuals (and their professions) quoted here are in no way a merit-based refutation of their arguments.

There is “…an existing stereotype of Romney and Republicans as wealthy white businessmen, clinking wine glasses while bemoaning the irresponsibility of the help,” wrote Michael Gerson in a column in The Washington Post on Sept. 21. Gerson, who was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, and may very well be the person who coined the phrase “compassionate conservative,” centered his column, “Ideology without promise,” on what the video of Romney at a Boca Raton fundraiser in May revealed.

The problem, Gerson wrote, isn’t really its power to confirm the stereotype of Romney, after all, “few imagined Romney to be a closet populist.” The problem is what the video suggests about “Romney’s view of the nature of our [current] social crisis.” Gerson’s elaboration of that crisis delves into the ways that the decay of neighborhoods, widespread job losses, poverty and personal financial collapse devastate individual lives and whole communities, magnifying their vulnerability and make government activism and creative policymaking an absolute necessity.

The Romney revealed in the video, and the incessant Republican political assault on the federal government, makes them worse than irrelevant. “…a Republican ideology pitting the ‘makers’ against the ‘takers’ offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class,” Gerson wrote, in what might be the most withering dismissal that will be written by a Republican about Romney and his campaign during this political season.

A day later the Post published a piece by Ezra Klein also focused on Romney and the 47-percent video. (Unfortunately, try that I might, I cannot locate a web version of this article available for free.) In his piece “Romney’s skewed view on personal responsibility,” Klein, formerly a business writer for the Post and now one of their most frankly liberal op-ed columnists, demolished Romney’s pay-no-income-tax dismissal of half of the country. “…more than 60 percent of [the 47 percent] were working and contributing payroll taxes—which means they paid a higher effective tax rate on their income than Romney does,” Klein wrote, adding that “an additional 20 percent were elderly.”

Worse than Romney’s dismissal of low-wage workers and retirees, Klein continued, was his description of who he needed to care about politically. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney said.

The horror here is that the people Romney dismisses are the people who must take more, not less, responsibility for their lives, Klein wrote. The time spent commuting on public transportation and wrestling with the scheduling difficulties that result, the time spent worrying about how to get one’s children into decent, affordable schools, the energy spent deciding on what to pay or what to buy in any given week, managing a budget with no give and with holes in the safety net below, takes an enormous amount of responsibility and energy. Mistakes of judgment will be made, Klein wrote, citing studies that vividly demonstrate how fraught and consequential are the lives and decisions of the 47 percent.

“Romney, apparently, thinks it’s folks like him who’ve really had it hard. ‘I have inherited nothing,’ the son of a former auto executive and governor told the room of donors.’ Everything Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way.’ This is a man blind to his own privilege,” Klein concluded.

Also applicable here might be former Texas Governor Ann Richard’s observation about Bush, the father. “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

In another piece in the Post that ran the same day as Klein’s piece, Colbert King made the case that the most damning thing about what Romney said privately in Boca Raton in May is how dramatically it undercuts what he said to the NAACP in public at their July convention. (King’s column, titled in the print edition, “Not buying what Romney is selling,” King quoted Romney’s apparently sincere sympathy for African Americans who live in a country where equal opportunity is not “an accomplished fact.” Because that is the case, our bad economy is not “equally bad for everyone. Instead, it’s worse for African Americans in almost every way,” Romney told the audience.

King detailed Romney’s claims to understanding and empathy. “We don’t count anybody out,” Romney said, “Support is asked for and earned, and that’s why I’m here today."

But, King wrote, the stuff Romney told the NAACP audience in July doesn’t square with the stuff he said privately in May to wealthy supporters at the Boca Raton event. “Romney, of course, was slurring more than the members of the NAACP, wrote King. “He also insulted retirees, college students, Americans with disabilities and people who work for a living for not much pay.”

In speaking to the Boca Raton donors, “witness Romney, the Chameleon, telling that crowd what they wanted to hear,” King wrote, in the process raising the implicit question: Why would an audience of political donors want to hear a presidential candidate dismiss 47 percent of the country?

Though an important question in its own right, it is nevertheless a digression from this indictment and will therefore be left to another time. Instead we will move on with the observations of economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

In “Romney pledges a Fed that will screw workers” posted on the Truthout website on Aug. 27th, Baker detailed the ways that a strong (read overvalued) dollar results in lost manufacturing jobs and depressed wages in the United States, and a huge international trade deficit. But the strong dollar also confers enormous benefits on corporations and the wealthy.

“The arithmetic on this is striking. Productivity is projected to grow by more than 25 percent in the next decade. If workers get their share of productivity growth, this would imply an increase in annual income for the typical family of approximately $12,000 by 2022. On the other hand, with a Fed following Romney's strong dollar policy, workers in 2022 will be lucky if their wages are as high as they are today,” Baker wrote.

In furthering the indictment of Romney, it should be noted that Baker does not confine his scorn to Republicans, identifying Robert (“Wall Street”) Rubin, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, as a principal architect of strong dollar policy. “While the strong dollar may be a loser for most people, it does offer large benefits for people like Mitt Romney, Robert Rubin, and other members of the 1 percent,” Baker added.

“These people are all heavily involved in global business and their money goes further when buying into China, India, and elsewhere when the dollar is stronger.

"In addition, there are retail companies like Walmart that have set up low-cost supply chains in the developing world that depend on an overvalued dollar. Do you think they want to see the price of the goods they purchase overseas rise by 20 percent when measured in dollars? The same applies to manufacturing companies like General Electric, which produce most of what they sell in the United States overseas,” Baker continued.

Itemizing Romney’s obvious disinterest in the fate of so many people should not be concluded without a look at his apparent position on women and health care. Notwithstanding his obvious affection for his wife, Ann, whom he makes use of in his efforts to reach autoworkers (“my wife Ann owns two Cadillacs”), he seems unaware of the need to make policy for the majority of American households led by single moms or with both parents working.

“… the Republican Party [has] just spent two full years using their power across the country to get involved in women's medical decisions and gay people's lives, and ... Mitt Romney [has] repeatedly vowed to do the same if elected,” wrote Marge Baker, an executive vice-president at People for the American Way.

In “Romney toWomen: Stop worrying about your bodies and just trust me,” posted on the Huffington Post website, Baker added “Yes, the economy and jobs are hugely important issues in this election (though ones in which Romney doesn't exactly have an advantage). So is foreign policy, which one Romney advisor dismissed this week as a 'shiny object.' But so are the personal attacks that Romney and his allies are lobbing at women.”

There is much additional testimony that could be brought to bear for this indictment, but brevity matters and is sometimes decisive. The election likely will come long before Mitt Romney is called into court to face these charges. And the outcome of the election will likely make further action against Mitt a substantial waste of time and energy.

In the meantime, does anyone care to defend the guy who led a gang of school boys in an assault on an effeminate classmate, who went on vacation with his dog in a crate on the roof of his car, who includes a number of NASCAR owners among his good friends, and who has said that he would not lift a finger on behalf of 47 percent of the country? If so, please respond on this site.