Opinion

The Great Debate

Paul Ryan and the rich man’s burden

Mitt Romney’s decision to name Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate says quite a lot about what Romney thinks about America and its workers, and none of it is good. In recent years, Ryan has earned a reputation as the intellectual of the conservative movement. He’s a gutsy guy who has been willing to transparently share his vision for America through a detailed budget proposal that leads inescapably to this conclusion: He believes that American workers are slackers and freeloaders.

Ryan hasn’t written a book, but his defining work is “A Roadmap For America’s Future,” where he was admirably honest about his plans for dealing with the long aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

But his diagnosis of the problem should make taxpayers who go to work every day wonder what the potential vice-president of the United States really thinks about them. Summing up the problem, he writes:

Americans have been lured into viewing government – more than themselves, their families, their communities, their faith – as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being.  The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility. It creates an aversion to risk, sapping the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for growth, innovation, and prosperity. In turn, it subtly and gradually suffocates the creative potential for prosperity.

To support the notion that most Americans have come to view the government as a provider, Ryan cites analysis done by the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan research group that had concluded, when Ryan first published his “Roadmap” in 2008, that 60 percent of American taxpayers receive more in government services than they pay in taxes. Of course, these taxpayers make up the bottom 60 percent of wage earners. This is the source of the “rich man’s burden” argument – that our society is built on a system of patronage where a minority pays for the needs of all the rest and the richer you are, the more you pay and the less you get back.

Why Romney can’t defend capitalism

When Fox News worries out loud that Mitt Romney’s failure to account for his time at Bain and his personal tax affairs may represent his Swiftboat moment, it is plain the Republican presidential bid has careened offtrack. The Bain attacks are “part of a strategy by Team Obama to turn Romney’s biggest perceived strength – his business experience – into his biggest weakness,” writes Fox’s Juan Williams. “Romney needs to come clean or his hopes of being president will end long before Election Day.”

How has Romney come so close to bungling his big chance, even before he has been nominated by his party? He appeared to be in an ideal position to turn his experience as a businessman into a winning political narrative. During these jobless economic doldrums, Romney might have become a champion of capitalism, explaining how private enterprise works and how it creates jobs.

His problem is that his time at Bain is not a classic story of heroic capitalism at work. Instead of an old-school entrepreneur with a good idea who raises funds to employ Americans to make a product that sells successfully around the world, Romney took distraught companies, charged them hefty fees, fired workers, and set the stumbling enterprise off in a new direction, laden with debt. Some companies prospered, some failed. Some gave Americans new jobs, some sent jobs overseas.

Mitt Romney, the Schrodinger’s Cat of private equity

Mitt Romney is a quantum CEO, the Schrödinger’s Cat of private equity: From 1999 to 2002, he both was and was not the chief executive officer and sole owner of a powerful Bain Capital investment fund. After that period, Romney’s surrogates explain, he “retroactively” retired from this post. But, as Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment reminds us, just because you find a retroactively dead cat doesn’t mean he wasn’t previously simultaneously alive and dead.

While the two presidential campaigns tussle over this paradox, the real shame is how willing Romney and his defenders are to tolerate this bending of the truth, heretofore confined to particle physics. It’s another insight into the increasingly murky culture of American capitalism.

While Romney has claimed at times he was retired from Bain Capital during the period, he also signed documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission attesting that he was the “sole stockholder, sole director, Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director and President” of a multimillion-dollar investment fund.

Is Murdoch trying to sink Romney?

Rupert Murdoch should never go on holiday. It only makes him grumpy. He returned last month from cruising on his yacht off the coast of Croatia looking for a scrap. When Steve Jobs invented the iPad, he could hardly have imagined the havoc caused by one crabby old geezer letting rip on Twitter. Murdoch, a genius with the snappy tabloid headline, didn’t need all 140 characters to reduce Romney’s campaign to toast. “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless [Romney] drops old friends from team and hires some real pros,” he wrote, adding the fatal one-word zinger: “Doubtful.”

Romney met Murdoch recently for a secret chat about how things were going on the campaign trail, but the relaxed Republican nominee presumptive, perhaps with his lavish family vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, on his mind, said he thought everything was just dandy. As Murdoch’s editors know to their cost, when the antipodean grouch asks how things are going it means he thinks things are going badly. As Romney’s minders did not issue a handout about the disastrous meeting, the lazy fourth estate did not know it was going on and so did not report it. But Murdoch took to his Twitter account to let the world know he was NOT HAPPY.

As Murdoch told the British inquiry into press standards, it used to be that “If you want to judge my thinking, look at The Sun.” Nowadays Murdoch’s hacks simply follow his Tweets. There is not much pretense any longer that Wall Street Journal journalists are any more independent of their master’s voice than Nipper, the dog on the HMV logo. The paper duly piled on with a blistering leading article beginning, “If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House…” before careening downhill, accusing the Romney campaign of being “hapless”, “politically dumb” and a “failure”. A companion blast in the New York Post, titled “Mitt’s Losing Habit”, concluded that “Not all politicians are winners. Whatever Obama may or may not be, he’s a winner. The jury’s out on Romney.” Ouch.

Secret emails show Romney’s approval of health mandate

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides later this month that President Obama’s healthcare plan is unconstitutional, most Republicans will be rejoicing. But none more so than Mitt Romney, who has made revoking the Affordable Care Act a principal plank of his platform. The Court will have saved him from having to explain an embarrassing batch of recently discovered confidential emails from the time he was governor of Massachusetts.

What opponents of the law that mandates every American buy private health insurance call “Obamacare” should more properly be called “Romneycare,” as the scheme Romney introduced in Massachusetts in 2006 is nearly identical to the one Obama introduced in 2010. Indeed, Romney’s plan is still in place and working well, and there is no groundswell in Massachusetts to abandon it. The president’s people, when drawing up their healthcare scheme, drew heavily on Romney’s experience. The fact that Senator Edward Kennedy approved of Romneycare and even agreed to be photographed with the governor when it passed into law gave the Obama camp an added incentive to follow in Romney’s footsteps.

To add to the ideological confusion surrounding Obama’s plan, Romney’s health scheme was inspired by Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. In the 1989 Heritage document “A National Health System for America,” Butler proposed that “every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health care costs.”

Mitt Romney’s inflated fearmongering

“I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” With these words, delivered at a Memorial Day commemoration last Monday in San Diego, Mitt Romney perpetuated what is perhaps the greatest single myth in American foreign policy – that we live in a world of lurking danger and rising threats.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the world today is safer than at any point in human history. Wars of all kind, including civil wars, are on the decline; and inter-state war, in particular, is even rarer. According to the Uppsala University Conflict Database, in 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries.

And when wars do occur, they are for the most part low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s, according to the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University. In fact, the first 10 years of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century

What would Romney do about Syria?

According to recent news reports, the Romney foreign policy team is trying to figure out what the presumptive Republican candidate thinks America’s role in the world should be. He’s been clear regarding the Iranian nuclear weapons program, promising that if he’s elected, Iran won’t get the bomb. But what about Afghanistan, say, or China? With less than six months left till Election Day, is he going to articulate distinctive foreign policy positions, or will he let Obama dictate the terms of the debate?

It would be understandable, given Romney’s desire to keep focused on jobs and the economy, if he were reluctant to get too far into the weeds on foreign policy. But come November, the American people will not be electing a financial adviser. They’ll be electing the leader of a world power.

Romney should not actually have much trouble outflanking Obama on foreign policy. The White House prides itself, rightly, on killing Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and other jihadists who threatened U.S. citizens, interests and allies. But the national security strategy of a superpower with interests across the world cannot be reduced to counterterrorism. Nor can our global responsibilities be fulfilled, in the immortal phrase, by “leading from behind.”

Is Mitt Romney the last true believer in austerity?

There is something oddly retro about Mitt Romney. He appears to have sprung from a nostalgic fifties “Hairspray” world where women sported beehives and cars had fins. Nor has his economic thinking kept up with the times. Although he backed Obama’s $787 billion-dollar Keynesian stimulus, as soon as the borrowers’ remorse that sparked the Tea Party took hold, he turned on a dime and embraced austerity and paying off the national debt.

As he declares on his website: “The only recipe for fiscal health and a thriving private economy is a government that spends within its means.” He signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge that will tie his hands if he makes it to the White House. Not trusting himself, perhaps, to remain fiscally continent, he favors an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, obliging Congress to put balancing the budget before all other measures. He would cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, a feat that would entail about $500 billion in cuts. On day one of his presidency, he says he would send Congress a bill that would cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent.

His proposed economies include (his estimates in parentheses): repealing Obama’s healthcare plan ($95 billion); privatizing Amtrak ($1.6 billion); reducing federal payments to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation ($600 million); eliminating family planning subsidies ($300 million); cutting foreign aid ($100 million); capping Medicaid (more than $100 billion); replacing only half those who leave the federal workforce ($4 billion); ending the Davis-Bacon Act ($11 billion) and paying federal employees lower wages ($47 billion); and that old elusive crowd-pleaser, reducing waste and fraud ($60 billion).

The gay-rights cause Obama can actually do something about

On Wednesday, President Obama declared his evolution complete. In an interview with ABC News he said: “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Gay-rights groups rejoiced; conservative groups scolded. But what the president thinks about gay marriage is, ultimately, symbolic. There is a different issue on which Obama could achieve real, tangible results for gays and lesbians, and gain electoral advantage over Mitt Romney: employment discrimination.

Obama has already done everything he can on gay marriage. His administration has declared the federal law banning gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), to be discriminatory and declined to defend it in court. He has extended spousal benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees. Marriage laws, on the other hand, are written at the state level. Even a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, which Romney supports and Obama already opposed, is not actually signed by the president.

The real reason Romney is struggling with women voters

Back in February, things started to look dire for the Romney campaign’s ability to attract female voters. Every day brought another story about Republican attacks on reproductive rights: attacks on insurance coverage for contraception, transvaginal probes, all-male panels called in Congress to discuss contraception, attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, and the candidate himself increasingly afraid to say a positive word about contraception when asked directly in the debates. A gender gap opened up between the candidates in the polls, with Obama outpacing Romney with women by 19 points. The Romney campaign responded by trying to change the subject, to jobs and the economy. But if Romney wants to close the gender gap, he should rethink that strategy. After all, the polling data suggests that his stance on economic issues – specifically the size of the safety net and amount of economic support the government provides to citizens – is what’s really hurting him with female voters.

The real war between the sexes may not be over feminism or sex so much as whether or not our tax dollars should go to social spending. Research conducted by Pew in October 2011 showed women support a strong, activist government in much larger numbers than men. On the question of whether the government should offer more services, women said yes by 9 more percentage points than men. The gender gap on social spending remained when pollsters asked about specific interest groups. Women wanted more spending on the elderly than did men by 11 percentage points, more spending on children by 10 percentage points and more spending on the poor by 9 percentage points.

Female voters respond much more strongly than male voters to government providing pragmatic solutions and real-world support for ordinary citizens, which helps explain why women flock to Obama and to the Democrats in general. In fact, with college-educated white voters, the gender differences are nothing short of astounding. In this group, female voters prefer Obama 60 to 40, and male voters prefer Romney 57 to 39.

  •