Thursday, April 19, 2012

Romney's Business Plan

After but a week of the unofficial general election campaign, what do we know about what kind of candidate Mitt Romney is going to be?

Well, clearly he's going to be negative, at least for now and probably forever.  He's going around to speak behind podiums with words on them that are about President Obama and not about him.  That's a sign, literally.  But given that, what kind of negative is he going to be?  In this it seems he is going to be a uniquely disgusting candidate.

He's arrogant and dismissive in a way that no presidential candidate in my lifetime has been.  His message to President Obama to "start packing" gives you the tone.  Some have tied this to his personality, his sense of entitlement, but it's more than that.  Among the many polls that came out this week, two went into depth on characteristics and several polled categories of voters.  In characteristics--likeable, trustworthy, leadership, etc.--President Obama scored very high and Romney low.  But strategists can't put names to characteristics, while they can to categories or groups.  And nearly all the polls show that Romney is losing badly with women voters.  Enthusiasm among African Americans for President Obama is high.  And polls show that President Obama has an enormous lead among Latinos--for example, the Pew study which is more conservative in its outcomes than the CNN and NBC polls this week. 

So what category does that leave Romney?  White males.  So his dismissive tone may well be strategic, as it plays into racism that permeates that category from top to bottom.  It's worth noting that however small a percentage is overtly or generally racist, there is the more widespread tendency to pick a scapegoat from another group when things aren't going well.  Things haven't been going well for a long time for white men who've lost the entitlement they assumed--it is their standard of "fairness." It's our standard, I should say, except I'm aware of its unconscious workings enough to keep it from influencing too many of my political thoughts.  But if the economy does not improve fast enough, the irrational could take over--and that's what Richney's campaign is betting on.

But before I leave this let me assert again: the way he is doing this is not only deeply insulting, it's never been done before to my knowledge by one presidential candidate about another, let alone a sitting President, in a general election campaign since World War II at least.  Candidates might routinely talk about their opponent lacking experience, or being too young. But even though lots of people openly said that GW Bush was a dim bulb, neither Al Gore nor John Kerry ever said it, or even implied it.  They didn't say he was in over his head, although a lot of people thought so (which made the Saturday Night Live caricature so instantly popular even in the 2000 campaign.)  Romney is saying so, using those words.  Is it actually a coincidence that the first instance of this is a ultra-wealthy white man talking about the first black President?        

So what else have we learned about what candidate Richney will say?  We know he lies, frequently, in both large and small ways.  We are used to the kinds of political lies called exaggeration, selective memory and facts, "spin."  But Romney lies about almost everything--so frequently that the media can't keep up correcting those lies.

  Here's my favorite lie this week.  Romney justified not releasing more than one year of tax returns (plus his estimated taxes for this year) by saying that John Kerry only released two years.  He was lying, by a factor of ten.  When he ran for President, Kerry released not 3 or 5 or 10 years of returns, but 20.   Now think about this.  Romney volunteered an untrue factual statement (unnecessarily) and didn't correct it.  When has President Obama done this?  He failed to make a correct context for his remark about a Supreme Court action being "unprecedented" and he repeated a story from old history books about a long-gone President that turned out to be contradicted by new history books.  But an outright factual lie like this?  Yet Romney does this almost every day.

Lawrence O'Donnell has been forthright--and mercifully funny as well-- about Romney's lying but he also alerted me to this column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:

"A marathon of debates and an eon of campaigning have toughened and honed Romney. He commands the heights of great assurance, and he knows, as some of us learn too late in life, that the truth is not always a moral obligation but sometimes merely what works. He often cites his business background as commending him for the presidency. That’s his forgivable absurdity. Instead, what his career has given him is the businessman’s concept of self — that what he does is not who he is. This is what enables the slumlord to be a charitable man. This is what enables the corporate raider to endow his university. Business is business. It’s what you do. It is not who you are. Lying isn’t a sin. It’s a business plan."

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