Monday, May 14, 2012

The Mad Libs Candidate

Mitt Romney is running the classic outsider campaign.  He is not a creature of Washington, he says.  He is a product of business world, the world of profit, loss and risk.  He comes from the “real world”.  He will lean upon this experience to reform how government operates. Entrepreneurs must adapt to survive.  Romney will adapt our system of government so it can survive in the big, bad global dog-eat-dog economy.  His guiding principle will be “WWBOD (What Would a Business Owner Do)?”

In one of Mitt Romney’s most recent speeches in Michigan, he said: “This is a time for new ideas, new answers and a new direction. That is the only way that our future can be better than the past.”

That is reassuring.  He is running on a platform of change and hope.  I am glad to hear that he believes that old ideas, old answers, and the old direction would not work in the new economic world order.  At least it sounds as if he would therefore reject any of the ideas that put us in this position in the first place. 

So what are his creative business solutions to the vexing problems we face as a nation?  What does his business acumen suggest would be the correct actions?  What would he do that the last GOP President and last GOP controlled Congress didn’t try?  If we decide to vote for him, we have a right to know, don’t we?

Here’s the Romney plan:  Lower taxes on the wealthy.  Deregulate.  Outsource to defense contractors.  Gut social programs.  Handicap labor. 

Not so creative and not so new.

These are the new solutions that he learned in the world of business?  I’m sorry, these sound more like empty platitudes design to win conservative votes without divulging real policy prescriptions.  At the risk of showing my age, I am wondering, “Where’s the beef?”  These prescriptions are exactly what the GOP has pushed for decades, nothing more, nothing less.  And they have been tried.  Economic success did not trickle down and deregulation ended up contributing to corporate fraud and abuse.

Maybe being a successful businessman makes you good at running a business focused on shareholder value and profitability.  It could be that being a successful businessman gives you a jaded and unrealistic viewpoint on what it takes to successfully lead a country not devoted to profit maximization at the expense of competition.  Really, if we are threatened by China, should we attempt a leveraged buyout or worse, a hostile takeover?

Paul Waldman writes that Romney’s “trust me, I’m a businessman” approach boils down to a simple leap of faith for the electorate - can you trust that someone who has been successful in one area of his life (given his wealthy head start, not to be confused with a healthy Head Start) can translate that success to another area of his life.  Is success in business a guarantee of success in government?

I don’t know the answer to that question, although Herbert Hoover ran on his business experience, and that didn’t work out too well.  George W. ran a business and he did a heck of a job running the economy…into the ground.  What I do know is that in order to consider Mitt Romney for President, we’ll need to know more than “trust me, I got this”.

From his Michigan speech:

“New and emerging small businesses and so-called gazelle, or fast-growing, businesses will spring up across the country by instituting pro-growth regulations, pro-growth taxes, pro-growth intellectual property protections, and pro-growth labor policies.”

Pro-growth regulations - Translation: Screw the environment and buyer beware; the invisible hand of market forces will protect the consumer in the brave new world of self-regulating markets (further translation – if your Ford Pinto explores upon a rear end collision, don’t worry.  People will eventually stop buying Pintos and the company will go out of business.)

Pro-growth taxes - Translation: Reduce tax rates on the wealthiest 1% even lower than they are today and convince voters that this tax savings for the wealthiest converts them into ‘job creators’ when this is factually inaccurate and wildly misleading.  Also used as a sneaky way to raise taxes on the poorest citizens and encourage them the value of work by mandating productivity increases that equate to asking workers to create bricks without straw.

Pro-growth intellectual property – Translation: I have no idea what he is talking about, and will assume that this is code targeted towards a particular class of potential campaign donors.

Pro-growth labor policies – Translation: Eliminate the right of workers to collectively bargain and return our great nation to those glory days when an employer could look you in the eye and say with confidence, “Get back into the shop, you lazy bum.  You’re lucky to even have a job.  Secretary of Labor Gingrich has millions of 10 year old kids ready to step in and do your job for pennies on the dollar so hold your water and stop grousing about that asbestos dust.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the details to refute my version, though.  Romney would rather remain a blank screen upon wish the electorate projects their own impressions:

“So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies... So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”

His penchant for vagueness is becoming the stuff of legend.  He has put forth a tax plan, but it cannot be scored by the CBO because it lacks details.  His answer to that dodge is that Congress would work out the specifics.  He advocates a new direction in Afghanistan, but will not tell us what direction he favors.  “Before I take a stand at a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there.” 

Maybe the best description of Mitt isn’t the Etch-A-Sketch candidate.  Maybe he’s the Mad-Libs candidate.  His policies have the vague outline of a story, but it is up to others to fill in the wacky nouns, verbs and adjectives that will really make us laugh.  If it is former Bush advisors and former GOP nomination rivals throwing in those nouns, verbs and adjectives, the narrative might get out of hand.

If we’re not careful, we might laugh so hard at the result, we'll cry.

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