Opinion

The Great Debate

Why doesn’t Mitt Romney contribute to his own campaign?

Lately, Mitt Romney has been so consumed with fundraising that his aides have had to defend his absence from the stump. Like his foe, the Republican nominee is in the midst of a frenzied financial arms race. But one hugely wealthy individual has not yet been persuaded to part with much cash to support the Republican cause: Mitt Romney himself.

Mitt Romney is hardly the first wealthy individual to seek the White House. John F. Kennedy once quipped he had received a telegram from his father: “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide.” But Romney, for whatever reason, has failed to use his personal wealth to pay his campaign’s bills. His refusal to self-finance is one of the mysteries of this campaign.

After all, if Romney were to help fund his own bid, he would have ample company. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would violate the First Amendment to limit what candidates can spend on their own behalf. Ever since, wealthy office-seekers commonly have ponied up. John Kerry lent more than $6 million to fund his Iowa caucus drive in 2003. Hillary Clinton lent her campaign over $11 million four years later. Steve Forbes gave his 1996 campaign $32 million, and spent nearly $37 million four years after that. Ross Perot spent $63 million to finish strongly in 1992, back when that was real money.

In fact, four years ago the former governor gave his own campaign nearly $45 million. He even donated a Winnebago trailer.  “I’m not beholden to any particular group for getting me into this race or for getting me elected,” ABC News quoted him as saying. “My family, that’s the only one I’m really beholden to — they’re the ones who let their inheritance slip away, dollar by dollar.”

The Romney boys can sleep easy: Their dad’s assets are worth nearly $250 million, according to financial disclosure forms. But he has put only $150,000 into this year’s run, through a joint gift with his wife Ann to a Republican committee last spring.

Romney’s campaign into oblivion

Willard Mitt Romney was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

It is possible to forgive it as a congenital trait. After all, his Dad, the genial George Romney, successful head of the American Motor Corp and governor of Michigan (1963-69), lost his bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1968 by setting a world record for the mass manufacture of gaffes. He had such a penchant for saying one thing and then retracting it, the reporter Jack Germond announced he was fixing his keyboard so that one keystroke produced “Romney later explained…” It was charming for a time to hear what George had said lately, but when he came back from a look at the Vietnam War, he announced he’d had “the greatest brainwashing anyone could get.” His rival Eugene McCarthy cracked that a light rinse would have been enough to relieve George’s neurological condition, but this time George had gone a gaffe too far. Some American prisoners released by the Chinese had renounced their U.S. citizenship, saying they’d been brainwashed, and primary voters had no enthusiasm for electing a president who might turn out to have been the Manchurian candidate. So we got Nixon and Agnew instead. Thanks, George.

Mitt was on a similar jag through the nomination process. “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me… My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs… I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net…” Men and women who’ve been looking for work for a year are supposed to appreciate the irony when he opens up: “I should tell my story. I’m also unemployed.”

It’s tough getting through the Great Recession when your net worth is just a few hundred million. Mitt doesn’t understand why there should be an intake of breath across the continent when in a televised debate argument about a healthcare detail with Republican Governor Rick Perry he says: “I’ll tell you what, ten thousand bucks? $10,000 bet?” His attempt to cozy up to followers of Nascar races is: “I have some friends who are Nascar owners.” Arriving in Britain for the Olympics, of course, his tin ear wins a tin medal for finding the organization “disconcerting.”

Overthrowing the overthrowers of the Republican establishment

Is there such a thing as a Republican establishment? Yes, if you trust Ann Coulter, and she thinks she knows exactly who they are – “political consultants, The Wall Street Journal, corporate America, former Bush advisers and television pundits” – which is a sly way of boasting that she is a member of this select band of behind-the-scenes power brokers.

To the American Spectator’s Steve McCann, the GOP establishment consists of: top lawmakers past and present “whose livelihood and narcissistic demands depends upon fealty to Party and access to government largesse”; “the majority of the conservative media … whose proximity to power and access is vital to their continued standard of living”; conservative think-tank staffers “waiting to latch on to the next Republican administration for employment and ego-gratification”; and donors and consultants whose businesses would benefit from a Republican in the White House.

George Will, surely an archbishop in the GOP establishment if it exists, takes a suitably contrary line, declaring without cracking a smile that “the Republican establishment died at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1964, when Goldwater was nominated against their frenzied wishes.” “Google the Republican establishment, you’ll get 20 million hits,” he explained. “Google the Loch Ness monster and you’ll get a whole bunch of hits. They’re both dead or never existed.”

How everyone got the Right wrong

This essay is adapted from Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, published this month by Metropolitan Books. The views expressed are the author’s own.

After the disasters of the George W. Bush presidency had culminated in the catastrophe on Wall Street, the leading lights of the Beltway consensus had deemed that the nation was traveling in a new direction. They had seen this movie before, and they knew how it was supposed to go. The plates were shifting. Conservatism’s decades-long reign was at an end. An era of liberal ascendancy was at hand. This was the unambiguous mandate of history, as unmistakable as the gigantic crowds that gathered to hear Barack Obama speak as he traveled the campaign trail. You could no more defy this plotline than you could write checks on an empty bank account.

And so The Strange Death of Republican America, by the veteran journalist Sidney Blumenthal, appeared in April of 2008—even before the Wall Street crash—and announced that the “radical conservative” George W. Bush had made the GOP “into a minority party.” In November, Sean Wilentz, the erstwhile historian of the “Age of Reagan,” took to the pages of U.S. News & World Report to herald that age’s “collapse.” The conservative intellectual Francis Fukuyama had said pretty much the same thing in Newsweek the month before. That chronicler of the DC consensus, Politico, got specific and noted the demise of the word “deregulator,” a proud Reagan-era term that had been mortally wounded by the collapse of (much-deregulated) Wall Street.

The Fox in the Tea Party

By Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson

The views expressed are their own.


Many observers of the role of U.S. media in politics as of the early twenty­-first century are alarmed that partisanship has crept in. This rarely bothers very conservative pundits, of course, because (even if they constantly com­plain about “liberal media bias”) they know that the elephants in the room are on their side. Liberals and self-styled nonpartisan critics engage in constant tut-tutting about the horrors of partisan media. They forget that American democracy was born and flourished through the nineteenth cen­tury in an environment where major newspapers, the mass media of the day, were all closely aligned with political parties. “Objective news” was not to be found; nineteenth-century editors and reporters alike presented highly se­lective versions of the facts, often in luridly emotional ways.

Only in the twentieth century, as sociologist Michael Schudson explained in his ground-breaking book Discovering the News, did professional journalists gain a degree of autonomy. Journalists developed norms of objectivity and “bal­ance,” which leading newspapers and, later, television networks tried to follow, more or less. Norms of objective journalism led to the convention of looking for quotes from sources on “both sides of the issue”—a practice more reflective of the fact that there were two major parties roaming the U.S. political tundra than of any law that major questions have only two possible answers. Social movements and protest efforts outside the two major parties found it harder to get a hearing in the objective-and-balanced media regime.

Given the impressive scope of conservative media, American democracy is, in an important sense, caught betwixt and between in the new media world. The frank, exuberant, all-around partisanship of the nineteenth century is not quite what we now have. True, there are both liberal and conservative bloggers, and on the tube, the Fox political slant is weakly countered by liberal-slanted shows on MSNBC. But mostly what America has right now is a thousand-pound ­gorilla media juggernaut on the right, operating nineteenth-century style, coex­isting with other news outlets trying to keep up while making fitful efforts, twentieth-century style, to check facts and cover “both sides of the story.”

Mindless tax slogans dominate our debate

By Robert Frank
The opinions expressed are his own.

What do the following slogans have in common?

“All taxation is theft.”

“It’s your money and you know how to spend it better than any bureaucrat in Washington.”

“It’s unjust to tax some people more heavily than others.”

“Taxing the rich kills the geese that lay the golden eggs.”

Although each has been repeated so often by conservatives during recent decades as to have acquired an air of settled truth, each is also either clearly false or conveys no useful information. A more troubling shared feature of these slogans is that they are causing serious harm. Their enthusiastic embrace by Tea Party members and large
factions of the Republican Party now threatens to transform the United States economy, once the envy of the world, into an economic backwater.

Let’s consider them in turn.

“All taxation is theft” is easily the most mindless of the batch. Functionally, it’s equivalent to the “It’s your money…” entry, since the ostensible point of each is that meddlesome government officials shouldn’t be allowed to confiscate the hard-won fruits of our own talent and effort. But there isn’t much economic value to confiscate in countries that lack well-defined and enforced systems of property rights and the public infrastructure required for highly developed and specialized markets. None of that could exist unless government could levy mandatory taxes. No informed person would seriously consider living in a society whose government lacked that power—think Somalia, or the Sudan—even apart from the concern that it would quickly be conquered by an army supported by a neighboring country’s mandatory taxation.

The jobs proposal ignores economics

By David Callahan
The opinions expressed are his own.

It’s a cruel fact for millions of unemployed Americans that the jobs plan President Obama unveiled last night will never be fully enacted by Congress. What’s even crueler, though, is that the least effective elements of the plan have the best chance of passage. New direct federal spending, the most powerful form of stimulus, is widely considered DOA on Capitol Hill – while weaker tax cut options will get a real hearing.

That’s not how things would go if mainstream economists were calling the shots. Economics is not an exact science, but economists do have pretty good models to predict what “fiscal policy multipliers” will be most effective at stimulating growth and new hiring. Just last month, for example, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics Mark Zandi released an analysis of stimulus measures work. Zandi advised John McCain in 2008 and is anything but a committed liberal. But his study, supported by the full weight of Moody’s modeling expertise, clearly shows that spending is the best form of stimulus.

The single most effective form of stimulus, the study found, are increased outlays for food stamps — which create $1.71 in economic activity for each dollar in federal spending. The other top two boosters are spending on unemployment benefits and infrastructure. Earlier studies, including by the Congressional Budget Office, have found largely the same thing.

Three reasons conservatives should oppose a balanced budget amendment

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

One of the crucial lubricants allowing Congress to resolve the debt-ceiling friction was, apparently, the inclusion of a provision to vote on a balanced-budget amendment. Assuming this version of the deal passes, then at some time between September 30 and December 31 of this year, both houses of Congress will be required to vote on a  ‘‘joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.’’

Whatever the political expediency of this provision may be, a balanced budget amendment is a bad idea from a conservative point of view, for at least three reasons.

It won’t work. Historically, conservatives have opposed extending government authority in places where it is not effective. You can find all the evidence you need to conclude that balanced budget requirements are useless by simply investigating the oft-repeated claim that 49 states have laws requiring a balanced budget. Leave aside the falsity of the claim and just consider the logic: if so many states are required to balance their budgets, why are so many states in the red?

Does Gingrich actually want to be President?

Newt Gingrich, May 13, 2011

By Ben Adler

The opinions expressed are his own.

There is a well-established template for a politician who has ascended to the pinnacle of national politics, tumbled off of it, and wants to return to run for president. You get out of Washington. You occupy yourself in private or charitable endeavors, maybe write anodyne books and studiously avoid making controversial proclamations that might come back to haunt you.

Richard Nixon, after losing his 1960 presidential bid and his ill-advised 1962 run for Governor of California followed this script and was elected in 1968. But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently announced his candidacy for president, hasn’t merely detoured from this path in recent years, he’s gone completely in the other direction. In fact, everything he has done since he was Speaker suggests he never planned to run for president, and he hasn’t made the appropriate preparations.

After Gingrich famously miscalculated and cost his party seats in the 1998 midterms by impeaching Bill Clinton for a brief episode of philandering, Gingrich left his own wife — who had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — for his mistress. That was his first mistake; well, actually his second, since he had previously left his first wife while she was in the hospital with cancer for his second wife. (Gingrich’s personal history was the subject of a devastating profile in Esquire last year.)

Misreading the midterm tea leaves

By Cliff Young and Julia Clark

Yes, this was a Republican Year. From lowly dogcatcher to the venerable Senate and House, the GOP made significant gains. But how should the results of this electoral cycle be interpreted? Are we seeing the emergence of a “new Republican mandate” which will sweep away the Obama project because of his policy oversteps? Or is this merely the short-term expression of voter angst, precipitated by a dismal economy?

Pundits and politicos alike would have us believe that the Obama era is over, with the general elections in 2012 being a mere formality to an imminent Republican resurgence. Obama went too far left, or so the argument goes, and the Republican gains this year are a leading indicator of a re-adjustment.

In our view, this perspective is fundamentally wrong: the results of the present mid-term elections have little to do with the probable outcome of the general election in 2012. Obama, contrary to the expert opinion, is still very much in the driver’s seat. Here’s why.

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