Saturday, September 22, 2012

Abandoning Romney

September 22, 2012, 2:40 p.m.

Foreign Relations Disqualification, Now Domestic, Too

Last March I wrote a favorable blog entry about Mitt Romney. "Why Mitt Romney? Better than 'Least Worst' Republican," March 22, 2012. Today I need to provide a significant addendum to those remarks.
Why Romney?

The March blog entry explained how I got to Romney: "This [every-four-years] round, my first Republican favorite was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (See, and Mitch Daniels, Once Daniels made it clear he was not running, I switched to Jon Huntsman (see "And the winner is . . . Jon Huntsman; Jon Huntsman . . . Better than 'Least Worst Republican,'" June 26, 2011; and "Jon Huntsman, Jr.,""

My addendum today is that I should have stuck with those choices rather than compulsively moving on to the third in line because of an irrational felt need to list somebody.

For what I realize today is that Romney has now demonstrated, during the ensuing months, a lack of the ability to be an acceptable president -- first with regard to foreign affairs, and now domestic as well.

Why would I, a Democrat -- albeit one who wishes we'd promptly enact instant-runoff voting so that I could vote in elections with both my heart and my head -- bother to write anything favorable about a Republican challenger to a Democratic president seeking re-election? As I wrote in March, after the November election "the president is virtually guaranteed to be either a Democrat or Republican -- whether chosen by the voters or the Supreme Court justices. . . . I'm not interested in encouraging the nomination of the Republican candidate least likely to win. I want the Republican candidate who, if she or he wins, will do the best job."

As I was quick to make clear, "That doesn't mean I'll be sending them money, going door-to-door on their behalf, or voting for them. . . . I've said nothing so far about his [Romney's] likely positions on the issues, were he to become president. He would probably seldom come up with the solutions that I would."

But I was willing to grant, "As I've learned more about Romney, I've become increasingly impressed with his smarts, education, experience, accomplishments, commitment to public service, and obvious managerial ability in running a presidential campaign. . . . What I see . . . is a bright, well informed, analytical, hard working, focused, pragmatic, problem-solving manager. A little touch of 'Elvis' would be comforting, but it doesn't trump the other qualities." I considered his Mormon religion a plus. ("I think it useful for individuals . . . to carry a moral compass that they check for directions from time to time.")

His lack of "Elvis" appeared almost endearing at that time; a man with six homes, one of which had elevators for his automobiles, making the efforts of a somewhat sheltered, shy, very wealthy guy trying, and failing, to reach out to working- and middle-class Americans: "Nor do I find his seeming inability to speak the language of ordinary Americans disqualifying -- that his tie to NASCAR fans is that he knows a number of folks who own race teams, his appeal to UAW members is that his wife has two Cadillac cars, that his income from lecture fees is only a modest $300,000-plus. I find such unscripted comments almost charming in an odd sort of way."

His Foreign Relations Lack Sensitivity, Knowledge, Common Sense

The first evidence of Romney's lack of foreign relations finesse came, one, two, three, during his London-Israel-Poland trip. "Romney as Ambassador-in-Chief; When Experience and Common Sense Matter," July 31, 2012.

Another shocking revelation came during his ill-fated remarks at the fund raising event in Boca Raton on May 17: "And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, . . . and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way. . . . [I]t's going to remain an unsolved problem." "Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video," Mother Jones, September 19, 2012. Other comments of his on this, and other, occasions reveal an almost total reliance on an ever-increasing military budget (without specifying how it would be spent), and absence of his awareness of the role of diplomacy, intelligence gathering, police (as distinguished from military) presence, Peace Corps and student and other exchanges of citizens, and foreign aid -- as at least a part of an integrated approach to dealing with the world's problems and our best national interests.

Most recently his unfortunate and untimely comments at the time of the uprisings in Libya and Egypt were greeted with disapproval from all quarters -- including thoughtful Republicans with foreign relations experience. See, e.g., Jack Mirkinson, "Mitt Romney Response To Libya, Egypt Attacks Called 'Irresponsible,' 'Craven,' 'Ham-Handed,'" The Huffington Post, September 12, 2012 ("Many members of the media reacted with puzzlement and criticism to Mitt Romney's continuing criticism of the White House response to the deadly attacks in Libya and Egypt. The Romney campaign drew fire on Wednesday morning for issuing a blistering statement condemning the American embassy in Egypt . . ..").

His Ignorance of the American People is Appalling

You've probably already seen this quote. But here are portions of it again, before some comments about its significance.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . .

"These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. . . . And so my job is not to worry about those people — I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
"Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video," Mother Jones, September 19, 2012 (transcriiption by Sydney Brownstone, Maya Dusenbery, Ryan Jacobs, Deanna Pan, and Sarah Zhang).

Where to begin? For starters, his math and assertions are a little confusing and garbled. (1) It's true that something like 47% of the American people pay no "federal income tax." (2) There is a percentage of both Republicans and Democrats that can be counted on to register and vote, and to vote for their parties' candidates. I don't have such numbers, but would doubt that they reach 47% of "the people" for either party. (3) There are undoubtedly some people who come close to Romney's description. Again I have no numbers; they probably don't exist. But whatever they are, they aren't 47% of "the people." (4) Nor is there an overlap between all these 47% -- those who feel they are "entitled," who also don't pay income taxes, who also all will vote for President Obama. (5) In fairness, one tries to turn "my job is not to worry about those people" into a strategic comment about his conduct of a campaign; that he needs to concentrate on those who have not yet made up their minds, rather than those who will vote for Obama no matter what. But when he follows it with "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility" it ends up sounding more judgmental, and dismissive, than strategic politics.

His comments about the payment of taxes are particularly ironic. (1) One who is unemployed, unable to work due to disability or age (either too young or too old), or living in poverty as a member of the working poor, may well have good reason for not paying federal income tax. (2) However, there are very few among those Americans who don't qualify as federal income tax payers who are not "taxpayers." The largest group is paying payroll taxes (now 15% according to Romney). There are the FICA (Social Security) and Medicare payments, state income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, gasoline taxes, and a variety of other payments to the federal and states' governments.

Note, there is no significant difference between (a) someone who owes $10,000 in federal income tax, pays it, but qualifies for a $1000 federal payment of one kind or another, and (b) someone who would owe $10,000 in federal income tax, but doesn't need to pay it, because they qualify for a 10% lower income tax rate. Both end up netting $9000 to the government.

Now consider Mitt Romney's "entitlement." His tax on his just-reported 2011 adjusted gross income of $13.7 million, at even a mere 35%, would have been $4.8 million. Instead, it was only $1.9 million -- that looks to me like nearly $3 million less than what his secretary would have to pay, if he paid her a salary of $13.7 million. A pretty hefty entitlement I'd say. And based on his insistence of even greater tax breaks for the "job creators" it's not unfair to call it the equivalent of the "entitlements" he criticizes in others. Nicholas Confessore and David Kocieniewski, "Romney Reveals He Paid 14% Rate in '11 Tax Return," New York Times, September 22, 2012, p. A1.

Moreover, quoting from the Times, "Mr. Romney’s tax return for last year showed just how sensitive a political matter his wealth and tax rate has become. In a bit of reverse financial engineering, he and his wife, Ann, gave up $1.75 million worth of charitable deductions, raising his tax payments significantly.

"Had he claimed all the deductions to which he was entitled in 2011, his effective rate could have dipped to near 10 percent, contradicting his past assurances that he had never paid below 13 percent.

"But forgoing the full deductions available to him put him at odds with his own past assertions that he had never paid more taxes than he owed and his statement that if he had done so, 'I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president,” as he put it to ABC News in July.'"

(Although well beyond merely cynical, I assume that after the election he could file an amended return and get the full benefit of his unused deductions.)

But so far we've just considered the inconsistencies, miscalculations and ironies in his remarks. Let us turn for a moment to what is most troublesome.

It's fair, I believe, putting aside his erroneous 47%, to conclude that he truly believes there are a significant number of the American people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. . . . [And that he will] never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Unlike last March, when I found "such unscripted comments [demonstrating his detachment from ordinary Americans] almost charming in an odd sort of way," these remarks are no longer charming. In addition to the ignorance they reveal, his distance from, and lack of empathy for, the bulk of the American people, they are also mean spirited in a way I formerly assumed did not exist within Romney. Apparently they do.

Coupled with Romney's demonstrated lack of intuitive competence and common sense with regard to foreign relations, I must with sorrow go back to my original selections of Daniels and Huntsman as the ones the Republicans should have chosen -- albeit too late in the campaign to do the Party any good.
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