It’s amazing to me that Mitt Romney brings up France as a scary comparison point to himself so often when he spent years there and speaks the language. It’s such a minor point, but telling. Of all the people running for president, Mitt Romney has to be the most aware that the rightwing caricature of France and French people is grossly exaggerated. He knows that “France” as Republicans know it is a complete fiction. But he has an election to win, for pete’s sake. It’s just so unbearable to see such an obvious phony, such a hollow vessel move even closer to power. I can draw no other conclusion than that Republican primary voters are just the easiest people to manipulate in the entire world, a point that is proven abundantly every 4-8 years.
A new Insider Advantage poll in South Carolina shows Mitt Romney with a small lead over his GOP rivals at 23%, followed by Newt Gingrich at 21%, Rick Santorum at 14%, Ron Paul at 13%, Jon Huntsman at 7% and Rick Perry at 5%.
And that is just the beginning, evidently. I don’t know how much harm will result from this, but if Romney actually loses South Carolina this thing will get long and ugly. I can only hope!
Politics aside, I think what we’re seeing is a hint of Americans’ unresolved feelings about capitalism. My perspective has always been that there is no “pure” or right form of capitalism, laissez-faire is really just one choice among many other valid choices, and it’s not a particularly good one in my opinion. But the simple fact is that, regardless of what form you use, you’ll find people like Mitt Romney, who improve efficiency in part by cutting jobs. Like Jon Chait, I don’t particularly think that’s a bad thing in and of itself. Better a few lose them than all. What makes it bad, though, is that Romney is running in part on redistributing the tax burden downward and chopping hunks off of the safety net. That’s what makes him an asshole–he’s running to make ordinary people more vulnerable to people like him, instead of trying to seek a balance. And it could actually resonate more among people like Republican primary voters, who tend to take a more laissez-faire outlook on economics. In their system, after all, getting laid off means you get nothing. This is a contradiction so heightened that it could play center for the Sacramento Kings, and South Carolinians (and later, the entire country) have to puzzle through it.
People like Mitt Romney make the economy more efficient, but they also make it that much more important that we have a strong safety net that’s paid by people who lucked into success by being born to the right parents, and/or who have enjoyed prosperity far beyond their ability to enjoy. Romney rejects this notion, preferring to arrogantly dismiss the problem and try to get people to view part of one aspect of his story in isolation. But, really, this is a nuanced and difficult conversation, and Romney is in many ways heightening the contradictions in how Americans see capitalism. It’s not a magical machine that increases peoples’ living conditions automatically and requires no work to do so–it’s a constructed system with a number of tradeoffs built into it. If you’re going to accept Bain Capital, then you better accept a safety net too, otherwise life really sucks when you lose your job. It’s about time people figured that out, which is why Republicans are afraid of them.
Benen catches one of Romney’s more irritating rhetorical tics:
After mocking the president’s “lofty promises,” Romney also proclaimed last night:
“Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.”
First, I’d prefer that pandering politicians leave our soul alone. Second, “saving the soul of America” sounds a little “lofty” to me.
And how, exactly, does Romney intend to save the American soul? As it turns out, he never quite got around to that. And that’s part of the problem I have with his candidacy.
This hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, since I watched Romney’s debate performance on Saturday, and every other answer invoked the “soul” of something, or the “spirit” of some other thing. Obama was killing “the spirit of free enterprise.” Obama ignored “the spirit of freedom” in the Green Movement in Iran. The “soul of America” was being changed. And so on. This rhetorical trick is the sign that you’re about to be sold a bill of goods normally, but with Romney it takes on an even larger dimension of weirdness.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Moneyball (if not, you should! It’s good, I promise!), but Brad Pitt’s character plays the somewhat Romneyesque General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, who out of necessity ignores the scouts obsessing about “chemistry” and “intangibles” and uses raw data to build a successful baseball team. Romney’s work suggests a similar temperament, a complete devotion to data for making decisions. But Billy Beane didn’t pretend that he cared about all that stuff. He didn’t treat the world to endless lectures on the importance of team chemistry. He made no secret of caring only about the data, and it served him well and revolutionized the game. Now, Romney almost certainly doesn’t care about the “soul of America,” as it’s not something that can be quantified, amortized, and put on a balance sheet. Indeed, someone with that kind of sentimental worldview would not have been able to fire thousands of workers at Bain Capital. I actually think Romney’s key selling point is that he doesn’t care about any of that stuff, that he’s the anti-Dubya who would never start a war based on a gut feeling, and that’s what makes this pandering so irritating–I sort of wish he embraced that coldness and made a pitch based on that. At least it would be honest. But it’s the lying–and obvious, bad lying at that–that really bothers me about Romney. Unless we’re talking about salvation or ghosts, I really don’t want to hear about souls and spirits. It’s just distracting nonsense.
Steve also asks an interesting question:
“Why does Romney want the presidency?”
Maybe someone should ask him. Though I’m guessing the answer will involve a ton of “souls” and “spirits” in it. Apparently, that’s how he thinks voters want to be talked to. Time will tell if he’s right!
James Joyner (via Larison) thinks so:
If Romney wins the nomination and loses to Obama–both of which seem likely right now–then we’ll likely see a swing to the right in 2016, as it would reinforce in the nominating electorate the notion that nominating moderates is a recipe for disaster.
I think that what makes me less inclined to believe this will happen is that Romney has little of the record of publicly bucking his party that McCain did. McCain wasn’t especially moderate in 2008 compared to the rest of the field–many of the other candidates supported cap-and-trade, though most had already flip-flopped on immigration reform–but he had a record of constantly needling Bush on matters both substantive and symbolic. This made it relatively easy for Limbaugh and others of his ilk to wrap up the defeat around him and discard the entire mess as a “moderate” mistake, even though McCain polled much better than the “true conservative” candidates and made the race closer than it would otherwise had been, and only after adding a “true conservative” to his ticket did his campaign really begin to falter. The 2008 campaign was lost because Bush’s policies–foreign and domestic–were utter disasters, but it’s much easier to shoot the messenger in cases like this, and that it was “moderate” John McCain made it irresistible. Romney simply doesn’t have any of this baggage–his 2008 campaign was less moderate than McCain’s, and he was the candidate of the establishment then as now. McCain had only some establishment support, but that support was among neoconservatives who have assumed less influence this time around. I suspect that fighting for the legacy of George W. Bush (i.e. Iraq) has become such an irrelevant consideration in 2012 that the neocons have less clout now than then, and Romney’s level of support went from being insufficient to entirely sufficient. But that’s a guess.
When discussing Romney, it’s important to take note that what plugged-in, informed people think about Romney differs wildly from what the average person thinks about him. To the former group, Romney is a shameless panderer who has no noticeable core convictions and few scruples, and is largely disliked by people on different sides. But the latter group was largely unaware of him in 2008 and has mostly become aware of him through his 2012 iteration, with all those unsavory flip-flops a half-decade behind him. Romney has presented himself as a staunch conservative with business experience, and his opposition has shown little interest in bringing up his past positions and the circumstances in which they were dropped, or even the only thing that made Romney a noteworthy figure in the first place, his Massachusetts health reform bill. Romney’s history on the national stage isn’t all that atypical for a Republican, while McCain’s had been–at least for a while. It’s true that Romney isn’t “one of them” in a cultural sense, but average conservatives don’t have much to point at to say he’s a phony ideological conservative, because Romney’s opponents and the media have been poor at getting such an obvious message out. Romney’s loss, should it occur, will probably be shrugged off in much the same way that conservatives shrugged off Bob Dole’s in 1996. Of course, if Republicans wind up losing the House and don’t capture the Senate, then he could become a vilified figure much like Mike Dukakis is among Democrats–hated for losing but not necessarily for ideological deviations and I would expect the internal conservative tensions tighten considerably as a result. And if that occurs, I hardly expect the Tea Party to have the upper hand–an improving economy, military deleveraging in the Middle East and electoral defeat like that would probably give sane Republicans quite a bit more power. Something to hope for, even if I don’t see it as especially likely in this case.
Okay, here’s a quick one. The significant other and I tuned into today’s Republican debate (our first, and likely only, one of the cycle). I was expecting carnage, to be honest. With Romney posting the kinds of numbers he’s posting, I figured everyone’s number one priority has to be to completely destroy Mitt Romney. Gingrich, Huntsman, Santorum: they need Romney to die soon for them to have any shot at all, so they’re going to give the Mittster both barrels. Right?
As someone who’s been following politics fairly closely for about seven years now–and writing about them for five–I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a pathetic collective display. In no particular order, you had:
- Mitt Romney reciting one boilerplate phase after the next, without anything resembling conviction at any point. I swear he almost broke into a smile after his BS-filled tirade about Obama’s national security policy. He came off as smug and insincere talking about most issues, essentially validating every fear of the anti-Romneyites. And he had the best performance of the night!
- Rick Perry had one kickass moment where he commanded attention and succinctly gave a pitch for his candidacy that fit what was needed and commanded real authority. Almost a perfect moment, actually. Then he said we should re-invade Iraq. At this point, I’m working under the assumption that Rick Perry is like the protagonist in a film noir, the heel who tries to rise above his station and gets smacked down by fate for trying.
- Rick Santorum never missing the chance to miss a chance to take on Mitt Romney directly and boldly lay claim to his frontrunner status, instead preferring to talk about bills he sponsored seven years ago and spar over process with Ron Paul. Truly, this man is the Republican Jimmy Carter.
- Jon Huntsman, who increasingly reminds me of Barry Weiss from Storage Wars, and gives speeches like Scott Bakula back during his days on Enterprise.
|Group||One Year Ago||Now|
|Group||One Year Ago||Now|
|Less than a high school diploma||15.1%||13.8%|
|High school graduates, no college||9.8%||8.7%|
|Some college or associate degree||8.2%||7.7%|
|Bachelor’s degree or higher||4.8%||4.1%|
|Group||One Year Ago||Now|
|16 to 17 years old||25.0%||25.5%|
|18 to 19 years old||22.7%||19.6%|
|20 to 24 years old||14.2%||13.4%|
|25 to 34 years old||9.8%||9.2%|
|35 to 44 years old||7.8%||6.9%|
|45 to 54 years old||7.6%||6.6%|
|55 to 64 years old||6.6%||5.9%|
|65 years and over||6.9%||6.3%|
|Group||One Year Ago||Now|
A few thoughts, ranging from weighty to frivolous:
- Wow, black unemployment hasn’t moved at all in a whole year? In an alternate universe where, say, John Edwards had been elected and Republicans hadn’t spent the past few years stirring up bigoted attitudes with voting restrictions, birth certificates, Tea Party rhetoric et al., I find it hard to believe Democrats wouldn’t lose a good chunk of that vote. But we live in this universe, so they’ll get 5% at most. Interestingly, Hispanics have been experiencing the quickest recovery, which is probably why their support from Obama is likely to dwarf 2008 (I’m guessing 75% or so in 2012).
- Another wow: unemployment for college grads is almost at second-term Clinton levels. It’s actually a very good job market for us.
- The idea that the Tea Party was ever about the economy is laughable in retrospect. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a job (and to be a Tea Partier). That is the truth, that the economy was involved was a lie, though since the GOP has done nothing on the economy you can argue it’s not news. And, again, if the GOP hadn’t spent years pandering to the prejudices of cranky old people, they could potentially have cleaned up with younger voters (and be in better shape for the future). If Republicans lose younger voters by a 2-to-1 (or bigger!) ratio again, they have only themselves to blame.
- Re: gender. Now that the two sexes are roughly equivalent in terms of jobs, can we please stop with (a) awful macho comedies about an imagined “masculinity crisis” for men in a “woman’s world,” and (b) use of the term “mancession”? I can’t tell you how much contempt I have for that word.
Now this is a nifty feat:
For the first time in many years, manufacturing stands out as an area of strength in the American economy.
When the Labor Department reports December employment numbers on Friday, it is expected that manufacturing companies will have added jobs in two consecutive years. Until last year, there had not been a single year when manufacturing employment rose since 1997.
And this week the Institute for Supply Management, which has been surveying American manufacturers since 1948, reported that its employment index for December was 55.1, the highest reading since June. Any number above 50 indicates that more companies say they are hiring than say they are reducing employment.
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