And this is my theory of Romney: He’s not conservative, but he’s not moderate either. Why people assume he must be one or the other is another puzzle, because there is a third choice, which is the correct one: none of the above. He’s everything, he’s nothing; he’s whatever he needs to be. And he has shown no political courage to buck his party’s establishment at any point in his career (pursuing health care in Massachusetts was hard, maybe, but not exactly an act of ideological daring). So, if he ever is president, he’ll be whatever the situation requires, which, given that he’ll be the head of a severely right-wing party, means that he’ll be pretty severely right wing.
It is one of Mitt Romney’s most striking anecdotes. The US Navy, he says, has fewer ships today than in 1917, and the US Air Force is smaller than it was in 1947. Notwithstanding that today’s fleets are far beyond the capability of those from yesteryear, Romney says it is evidence that America’s military dominance is at risk.
Romney’s solution is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign. He has vowed to commit at least 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product - $4 out of every $100 in the nation’s economy - to “core’’ defense spending, not including many war expenses.
The cost appears to be far greater than when Romney first broached the idea several years ago, when the nation was spending closer to 4 percent of GDP on defense. Under next year’s budget, defense spending is projected to be about 3.2 percent - yet Romney has stuck by his 4 percent vow. Put another way, that means Romney proposes spending 61 percent more than Obama at the end of a decade-long cycle, according to the libertarian Cato Institute.
Enacting such an increase at the same time that Romney wants to slash taxes and balance the budget could cost trillions of dollars and require huge cuts in domestic programs. As Romney’s website puts it matter-of-factly, “This will not be a cost-free process.’’
The legal challenges to ACA, which the Supreme Court will hear next week, center on its key provision, the individual mandate. The mandate essentially requires all adults to obtain health insurance, either through their employers or by buying it themselves. (There will be subsidies for those who cannot afford it.) The idea of a health-insurance mandate first came to wide public notice in 1989, in the form of a proposal from the Heritage Foundation, one of Washington’s venerable right-wing think tanks. In subsequent years, the idea was embraced by a variety of politicians, mostly conservatives, including Newt Gingrich and Orrin Hatch. In Massachusetts, of course, Governor Mitt Romney made it the centerpiece of his health-care-reform plan. For decades, no one suggested that an individual mandate was unconstitutional.
This was understandable. The principal constitutional justification for the individual mandate is the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the right to regulate commerce among the states. The meaning of this provision has been settled since shortly after the New Deal. The Court has said repeatedly that Congress has the right to regulate economic activity even if it takes place only within a state.
The main argument that opponents of the health-care law have come up with is that the mandate regulates economic inactivity—i.e., not buying insurance—and the Commerce Clause allows only the regulation of economic activity. In the first appellate review of the law, last summer, the Sixth Circuit demolished that argument. The court pointed out that there are two unique characteristics of the market for health care: “(1) virtually everyone requires health care services at some unpredictable point; and (2) individuals receive health care services regardless of ability to pay.” Thus, there was no such thing as “inactivity” in the health-care market; everyone participates, even if he or she chooses not to buy insurance. Indeed, the choice to forgo insurance imposes a direct cost on the taxpayers, who wind up footing the bill. Those choices by consumers, especially in the aggregate, represent an economic matter that Congress may decide to regulate.
The precedents supporting the constitutionality of ACA haven’t changed, but the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, has. As in the Senate, moderate Republicans held sway for years at the Supreme Court, but that species has vanished on both sides of First Street. The likes of Lewis Powell and Sandra Day O’Connor have been replaced by the likes of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. In order to strike down health-care reform, the new Republican Justices would have to change the underlying constitutional law, which they have proved themselves more than capable of doing. They have already cut a swath through the Court’s precedents on such issues as race, abortion, and campaign finance, and it’s possible that they will assemble the votes to do the same on the scope of the Commerce Clause. The high-stakes health-care case is a useful reminder of the even higher stakes in the Presidential election.
Everything in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s biography “The Real Romney” (HarperCollins) confirms the view that until 2005 Mitt Romney was a liberal Republican cryogenically preserved from the pre-Reagan era. He was a liberal on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights; a champion of government programs, such as universal health care; an anti-protectionist, “open door” internationalist; a private-sector multimillionaire who was also a personal square, completely uninterested in life-style “experimentation”; a reflexively patriotic, flag-pin-in-the-lapel sort of fellow; a wealthy man possessed of the slightly daft notion that although he had been born to privilege, every American has the opportunity (and the wish) to live as he does; a patrician with a deep sense of noblesse oblige. Since 2005, Romney has made himself interesting by getting a lot of people, including those who might vote for him and those who definitely will not, obsessed with whether, and to what extent, and in spite of anything to the contrary he might be saying on the campaign trail, he is still that person.
Today, Democrats are enjoying the spectacle of the well-financed, well-endorsed, sometimes preeningly self-confident Romney getting beat up in primary contests by the ideological equivalents of what prizefighters call tomato cans. But, as is often the case in politics, what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. Those political palookas are performing the service of identifying the anti-Romney voters as fringe voters—people who have nutty ideas about government, or who are just angry at modern life.
If Romney can dodge and feint his way past all his strange opponents, and discreetly shed some of the culture-war rhetoric he is finding himself obliged to mouth (which may be a challenge), he might arrive in November looking like a plausible candidate of the center, which is the way all Presidential candidates aspire to look. Then it might be the white-shoe Wall Street establishment of fifty years ago against the embodiment of twenty-first-century post-ethnic America. Fantasy politics, but for real stakes.
Like a street façade on a movie set, Romney’s economic plans are designed to project an outward appearance of functionality. But when you look behind their cleverly made-up fronts, there’s nothing to see. Romney’s policy offerings on taxes, spending, and entitlements consistently lack crucial structural details; his campaign seems intent on emulating the outward appearance of policy proposals without providing anything that’s actually workable.
Take Romney’s proposed overhaul of the tax code. Vague on details and short on substance, it’s more like a press release than anything resembling an actual plan to rewrite the country’s massive, complex tax code. The few details it does reveal tend to focus on the goodies Romney would like to offer and less on their price. Romney proposes an across the board tax cut along with cuts to the corporate rate and various other reductions, including a repeal of the alternative minimum tax. Combined, the Manhattan Institute’s Josh Barro estimates that Romney’s proposals would reduce federal tax revenues by up to $5 trillion over the next decade.
In keeping with his vow to balance the federal budget, Romney also promises to make these cuts in a way that’s revenue neutral. How? He’s yet to say. The plan indicates that Romney would rely on dynamic tax effects while closing tax loopholes and reducing spending in order to offset the lost revenue. Which loopholes would he snip? Which spending would he cut? Anyone wondering about these questions might as well ask a magic eight ball, which would at least provide an answer.
There’s an old saw in American political science research that a long drawn-out primary campaign, rather than weakening a candidate, actually makes him (or her) stronger. Proponents of this theory will point to the example of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign for president and his long slog for the Democratic nomination.
Conventional wisdom and political science: meet Mitt Romney.
It’s certainly possible that Romney has benefited from the series of humiliations and political gaffes that are more popularly known as the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest, but right now, it’s pretty hard to make that case.
Recent polling tells an ugly story. The latest ABC/Washington Post Poll gives him a favorability of 33% and an unfavorability of 46%; a recent Politico poll puts his unfavorability above 50%. The longer these numbers stay negative, the greater the risk that a toxic public perception of the candidate will be become firmly lodged in the minds of voters.
Romney’s dilemma, of course, is that he is perceived as something of a “Richie-rich”, who is out-of-touch with the economic concerns of ordinary Americans. This perception is due in some measure to the fact that Romney is probably the richest man ever to seek the nation’s highest office.
Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.
Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”
The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.
The GOP has reason to be scared.
What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.
Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head.
Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has hammered rival Rick Santorum on his support for federal pork as a senator, but Romney, too, is guilty of nabbing Washington cash, especially while heading the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Romney sought congressional directed funds — known as earmarks — to help build transportation systems and augment security operations for the Games and argued that such money was vital to putting on the events.
"No matter how well we did cutting costs and raising revenue, we couldn’t have Games without the support of the federal government," Romney wrote in his first book, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games.
The federal government pumped more than $340 million into Utah in advance of the 2002 Games, funding about 18 percent of the cost, including funds for buses, light-rail construction and a host of security-related projects, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. If costs for rebuilding Interstate 15 and all of the light-rail expenses are added, the federal sum zooms to $1.3 billion.
Turns out public-private partnerships can be incredibly effective. It’s a shame that today Romney is unwilling to defend or credit the role of government in a functioning society, instead preferring to worship at the altar of “free market” economics and the caricature of Reagan the Republican demigod.
Following the bail-outs, the president eventually forced Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, a step Mr Romney thought should occur naturally. And the government oversaw painful restructurings at both companies, which were largely in line with Mr Romney’s broad suggestions. But the course Mr Romney recommended in 2008 began with the government stepping back, and it is unlikely things would’ve turned out so well had this happened.
Free-marketeers that we are, The Economist agreed with Mr Romney at the time. But we later apologised for that position. ”Had the government not stepped in, GM might have restructured under normal bankruptcy procedures, without putting public money at risk”, we said. But “given the panic that gripped private purse-strings…it is more likely that GM would have been liquidated, sending a cascade of destruction through the supply chain on which its rivals, too, depended.” Even Ford, which avoided bankruptcy, feared the industry would collapse if GM went down. At the time that seemed like a real possibility. The credit markets were bone-dry, making the privately financed bankruptcy that Mr Romney favoured improbable. He conveniently ignores this bit of history in claiming to have been right all along.
Before the compromise, the spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went even further, arguing that entirely secular corporations, if owned or run by faithful Catholics, should be able to exclude contraception from their employees’ health-insurance coverage. “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell,” he declared, “I’d be covered by the mandate.” And even that would be unacceptable.
So Catholic doctrine should, according to the bishops’ spokesman, also apply to non-Catholics—even if they are merely selling burritos.
This kind of rhetoric is not about protecting religious freedom. It is about imposing a particular religious doctrine on those who don’t share it as a condition for general employment utterly unrelated to religion at all. And if that is the hill the Catholic hierarchy and evangelical right want to fight and die on, they will lose—and lose badly. Which may in part be why the American bishops, in responding to Obama’s compromise, suddenly took a much more restrained tone. Contraception is popular. Even in conservative Mississippi, a recent ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to ban the morning-after pill failed badly at the polls. If this issue won’t work for the GOP in Mississippi, they’ll have a hard time winning a general election over it. And if the bishops think opposing Obama’s compromise will rally Catholics to their cause, they are even more out of touch than they realize. This will indeed become a wedge issue—between the bishops and their flocks. Yes, finally a social wedge issue that helps Democrats, not Republicans.
There was a time not so long ago when Catholics and other Christians weighed various moral claims to find a balance. Sometimes, the lesser of two evils was preferable. For centuries, for example, Catholic theologians, including the greatest, Thomas Aquinas, argued that human life begins not at conception but at some point in the second trimester. For centuries the Catholic Church allowed married priests. For centuries Catholics believed that extending the end of life by extreme measures like feeding tubes was a violation of natural death, which Christians of all people should not be afraid of. But this ancient, moderate, pragmatic reasoning has been rejected by the last two popes, who have increasingly become rigid, fundamentalist, and hostile to prudential balancing acts in the real, modern world we live in. Their radical fundamentalism—so alien to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and to so many lay Catholics—has discredited the core priorities of Christianity, failed to persuade their own flock, and led to increasing politicization. And the obsession among Catholic and evangelical leaders with an issue like contraception stands in stark contrast to their indifference to, for example, the torture in which the last administration engaged, the growing social inequality fostered by unfettered capitalism, the Christian moral imperative of universal health care, and the unjust use of the death penalty. That’s why younger evangelicals are also alienated. They want to refocus on issues of the poor, prison rape, human trafficking, and the kind of injustices Jesus emphasized, rather than on these sexual sideshows the older generation seems so obsessed with
[Romney’s] stump speeches rely almost entirely on fantasies and fabrications designed to appeal to the delusions of the conservative base. No, President Obama isn’t someone who “began his presidency by apologizing for America,” as Mr. Romney declared, yet again, a week ago. But this “Four-Pinocchio Falsehood,” as the Washington Post Fact Checker puts it, is at the heart of the Romney campaign.
How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!
My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy — a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security.
Over time, however, this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum — and now the party elite has lost control.
The point is that today’s dismal G.O.P. field — is there anyone who doesn’t consider it dismal? — is no accident. Economic conservatives played a cynical game, and now they’re facing the blowback, a party that suffers from “severe” conservatism in the worst way. And the malady may take many years to cure.
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