The Audacity of Romney

When presidential candidate Mitt Romney reacts against comments that he’s against the middle class, and that his tax-cuts favor the 1%, we learn from his nuanced handlers that he’s for the middle-class tax-cut extension, leaving unsaid his commitment to extending a whopping tax-cut for his special interest group, the 1%.

Mitt knows the middle class is terribly frightened, especially about jobs and finances, yet many of his ideas will damage that middle-class, both now and also when they’re old. According to Mitt himself, those making $250,000 per year are still middle-class. While his volte-faces on healthcare, abortion, and states’ rights have become infamous, Mitt Romney’s deeper desire is to destroy “big government” as most of us have come to know it in our lifetimes – and the audacity of his deviousness still amazes.

In this sense, the 2012 presidential election really is epic, and it’s about more than the specific candidate or specific political party. The chorus of critics currently assailing Mitt Romney’s candidacy misses the fact that he has firmly placed the GOP’s stamp on most of our national debates (with help from Paul Ryan and Ron Paul). Where Obama wins on liberal terms and steadiness of character, especially among women, Romney draws the votes of older white males, uneducated folks, and the stalwart Tea Party states. These social groups are desperate for a way of life they see vanishing before their very eyes, and they lunge for the lunatic solution: Turn back the clock.

When Romney frames the national dialogue as one between big government vs. libertarian/limited government, many Americans agree, and thus follow his framework. Even in liberal California, I constantly hear the refrain, “But this is beginning to feel like the Nanny-State.” He can promise “12 million new jobs” in his putative presidency, a much-mocked number, but still achieves resonance when adding it will be through small business growth, private industry, and American entrepreneurship. He would somehow simultaneously pay down the debt, heavily increase the military budget, and cut taxes for all (and especially his team, the 1%).

In his recent book, The Price of Inequality, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz asserts that the dichotomy of the 1% vs. the 99% is the defining characteristic of a structurally ill economy. While we proudly state (I can hear this from Hope Ranch to Bel Air) that we’re the richest nation in the world, 20% of the kids in California live below the poverty line. Using the Gini coefficient, we can see how most of the wealth since 1970 has aggregated at the very very top. Like Bill Clinton said, do the arithmetic: The rich got a lot richer, the middle class did a tiny bit better (until 2008), and the poor fell through the floor.

I’ve lived in Germany for some years, and the average German lives well but uses noticeably less water, less gasoline, less living space, and less energy per person than we do. Their taxes are high, but their health care system is admirable and much cheaper than ours. The American market is a broken system, contends Stiglitz, and of course it hurts when one of my Montecito ‘market fundamentalist’ friends hears this. In economics jargon, Stiglitz argues our economy has too many special deals (loopholes) going; this is called “rent-seeking.” Republican and Democratic administrations have participated in enormous federal giveaways to the energy industry, big pharma, the defense industries, big agriculture… it’s quite a list and horrendously expensive, budget-busting, and debt-bomb enhancing, in fact. No one seems to have the cojones to take on these big boys, especially not after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and certainly not ex-governor Mitt Romney.

It feels obvious to many Americans that the self-absorbed economic elite, the much-reviled 1%, have developed a thick insulation from the travails and hardships of normal Americans.

Since the economic elite control the political elite, we can see why that other Nobel Prize-winning American economist, Paul Krugman, insists on greater intellectual clarity in national economics dialogues. These economic debates really are about ideas — a bigger socially democratic government which redistributes more wealth down? Or, a brutally lean libertarian state which funds roads, armies, minimal public health, a legal system, and nothing more?

I’ve already discussed Romney’s education plans. He would starve public education and introduce a voucher-style plan, although he’s careful never to use that term. When Mitt mocks “redistribution,” he targets public education as well as Medicare and Social Security.

And as with public education, so also with Medicare, which will be phased out over time, just as Social Security will eventually be transformed into a universal 401 (k) type of social insecurity. His Medicare plan might as well be termed “Voucher-care,” and you can be sure that even a $7000 medical voucher per year will not cover rocketing health care costs for older Americans.

Romney packages “tax-cuts” as a way to stimulate the economy, but he’s really back to voo-doo economics. As Bill Clinton cleverly stated, they’re “doubling down on trickle down.” The 1% monies do not trickle down into the full market economy (Stiglitz), and we still have a liquidity crisis (Krugman), although the hyper-wealthy dodo employ plenty of gardeners, valets, private chefs, nannies, masseuses, tutors, doormen, and yes-men.

Will the middle-class be tricked by Mitt’s many flip-flops? Will the impudent arrogance of “the nowhere man,” as the British press mockingly called him in London, convince enough uneducated American white men to allow Mitt to win in November? Will Mitt keep saying pious things about protecting Medicare (like David Cameron in the UK says pious things about the National Health Service in England) prior to the election, then embrace the hard-hearted Ayn Randian creed after he wins and slowly destroy Medicare? (Cameron is dismantling the NHS.) And why should conservatives believe he would retain his strange new Tea Party beliefs if elected?

How can Mitt’s planned budget cuts, coupled with huge tax cuts and entitlement cuts, plus major new Pentagon outlays, help create jobs and reduce the debt bomb? Answer: It’s in the arithmetic: Raise taxes on that lazy good-for-nothing non-working 47%.


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