Allergic to issues, obsessed with personality, and unwilling to confront the reality of Republican radicalism, most members of the mainstream media have focused their coverage of the GOP presidential nominee on a single banal inquiry: “Who is Mitt Romney?”
Allow me to clear this one up: it doesn’t much matter.
Befitting a Republican who sought statewide office in navy-blue Massachusetts, Mitt Romney spent most of his political life, in the words of The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, as “a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era.” Back in Massachusetts, Romney believed that “abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and pledged to “sustain and support” Roe v. Wade. He promised not to “line up with the NRA” and proudly boasted of the state’s “tough gun laws.” He refused to sign Grover Norquist’s “no tax” pledge as governor and termed it an example of “government by gimmickry.” He endorsed equal rights for gays, a generous immigration policy and, most famously, instituted universal healthcare for the state’s citizens based on an insurance mandate.
That fellow is as difficult to locate today, however, as the balance of a Cayman Islands bank account. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney opposes pretty much everything that Republican Senate candidate and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ever said and did. Even so, countless journalists (and perhaps not a few undecided voters) have been racking their brains trying to decide whether President Romney might revert to that nice liberal Republican who occupied his body until 2005 or so. Many conservatives apparently fear the same.
But that Mitt Romney passed into history together with that “maverick” media hero, John McCain (remember him?), and for much the same reasons. All successful statesmen must be able to demonstrate flexibility in making pragmatic political calculations, but Romney appears to do little else. Even the non-maverick-y McCain, circa 2008, defended Barack Obama when his more rabid supporters attacked the president’s patriotism, birthplace or religion. Romney, however, offers his silent assent under the same circumstances. So while the Tea Party amateurs—the naïve and frequently ill-informed pawns of wealthy corporate funders like the Koch brothers and their ilk who served as foot soldiers for the lunatic candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich—may have pined for a more “authentic” conservative than Romney, the pros always knew better. As Norquist himself explained, “We just need a president who can sign the legislation that the Republican House and Senate pass. We don’t need someone to think. We need someone with enough digits on one hand to hold a pen.”
In a Romney White House, those digits may go limp with fatigue. A Romney victory would likely bring with it a large majority in the House and quite possibly a Republican Senate as well, and hence a tsunami of regressive legislation. As the longtime nonpartisan analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein argue, a Republican victory in November will likely prove a key turning point in modern American history. It will offer Republicans the opportunity, in Mann’s words, to put “in place a radical view of policy that goes well beyond anything Republicans have proposed in the past,” one that has moved so far rightward that “no Republican president in the modern era would have felt comfortable being a part of [it].” What’s more, they will likely succeed owing not only to Romney’s eagerness to blow with whatever winds may be buffeting him, but also, as Mann and Ornstein put it, to his party’s “demonstrated willingness to bend, break, or change legislative rules and customs that have stood in the way of radical change in the past.”
If you think the Tea Party has gone away, think again. Its members are not holding demonstrations so much anymore because they are staffing campaigns, winning Republican primaries (often against veteran incumbents and well-funded establishment favorites), or replacing the staffers of those they have scared into submission. As Dave Weigel writes in the Washington Monthly, “After 2010, the movement evolved. Activists got jobs with newly elected Republicans. Political organizations like the [corporate and conservative billionaire-funded and -controlled] Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks grew their staffs and budgets. Elected Republicans continued to draw on them for strength, support, and warm bodies at campaign events.” Under a Romney administration, many of these ignorant fanatics will be called upon to staff a significant number of the more than 3,000 federal appointments that a president makes, and his hundreds of potential judicial appointments as well.
The result, should Romney become president, will be a mixture of policies that favor the superwealthy, punish the poor and middle class, restrict the rights of average Americans, and—I say this without hyperbole—cause a degree of almost unimaginable and unprecedented chaos in virtually every area of American public life.
As president, Romney promises to focus on economic policy, and it is here where his impact may be greatest. The primary purpose of the modern Republican presidency has been to make the extremely rich far richer at the expense of the rest of us, and Mitt Romney promises to outdo all of his predecessors in this regard. George W. Bush’s $2.5 trillion in tax cuts, while ruinous to the nation’s balance of payments, succeeded in distributing only 12.5 percent of those trillions to his friends and cronies in the wealthiest 0.1 percent. Romney does Bush quite a bit better by proposing—on top of already unsustainable budget deficits—an additional $10.7 trillion in tax cuts over the next 10 years, with fully 33 percent directed toward the top one-tenth of 1 percent. The fine print calls for a reduction in both individual and corporate tax rates, as well as the complete elimination of both the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. The net result would be that the superwealthy—those who enjoy an income in the vicinity of $3 million annually—keep an additional $250,000. According to the Urban Institute–Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, the cost will likely exceed $9 trillion in lost revenue in the coming decade.
Meanwhile Romney’s friends on Wall Street can also expect, under his presidency, to see the complete defenestration of the Dodd-Frank bill, which helps (albeit insufficiently)to protect consumers from the predatory practices of large financial institutions, while at the same time placing limits on the kinds of malpractice that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
Romney’s budget-busting plans also call for a cornucopia of new spending for each of the three major armed services, including the addition of 100,000 ground troops for the Army, an additional six new ships each year for the Navy, and more F-35 stealth warplanes for the Air Force. This adds up to a $2 trillion increase in the coming decade above what had previously been budgeted. (Congress and President Obama had earlier agreed to a $450 billion reduction.) These increases would come at a moment when the United States spends more on its military than its seventeen next-largest competitors combined. In fact, fully 64 percent of all 4.4 million employees on the federal payroll are already either in the uniformed military or work for the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
How will any of this be paid for? Romney pretends that significant savings will come from closing tax “loopholes,” but this is nonsense. Those loopholes were placed there specifically to reward the donors who pay the costs of our lawmakers’ political campaigns (just like the more straightforward across-the-board tax cuts for the superrich). Tea Party champions, including Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky, are trying to prevent the Treasury Department from cracking down even on wealthy expatriate tax cheats. The notion that these loopholes will somehow be eliminated—especially when they continue to be expanded every time the tax code is adjusted—is too childish for adults to take seriously, save perhaps for a few gullible reporters and right-wing pundits.
All of the above would put unbearable pressure on an already stretched entitlements budget, as well as on those federal programs for the poor and middle class that have so far escaped the scalpel, while simultaneously raising the tax burden on these households. Regarding the latter, for instance, a tax plan released by Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch ends the Child Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (for college tuition) and a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit—which, when added together, would raise taxes on more than 20 million families, according to Seth Hanlon, the director of fiscal reform at the Center for American Progress.
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