Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mitt Romney

Yesterday the topic was Barack Obama’s plusses and minuses as president. Today is Mitt Romney’s turn.

I have been voting in presidential elections since I became eligible in 1976, when I voted for Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter. That makes thirty-six years; this will be my tenth presidential campaign. In all that time, I have never seen a more cynical, calculated campaign than what has been put together by Mitt Romney and his team.

The election is upon us and Romney still has not put forth plausible numbers to show which deductions he’d do away with to offset the tax cuts he proposes. We’re supposed to trust him. How much trust has he earned?

He tacked harder right than any of his primary opponents, having farther to go after his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. When asked if Romney had moved too far right last March, senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom replied, “"I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again." English translation: Nothing we said before counts. We’ll say whatever each audience wants to hear.

Later in the campaign, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse let this slip, when questioned about the accuracy of a claim in a recent ad: “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Politicians make their livings through playing fast and loose with the truth; it’s why people dislike them in general. (Sometimes on principle.) They deceive, fabricate, mislead, dissemble, prevaricate, and misrepresent. Rarely do they flat out lie, and I have never seen a presidential campaign so willing to say, “So what?” when caught. What will Romney actually do if elected? It’s hard to say, though it’s safe to predict he’ll do whatever is most politically expedient at the time.

Gaffes are part of the political theater, never more so than in this day of You Tube and camera phones. Too much is made of them, even in debates. Candidates speak millions of words on the campaign trail, usually while handling multiple responsibilities on little sleep. They’re going to say something stupid once in a while. Still, Romney’s comment in the third debate (“Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.”) is disturbing on multiple levels.

It’s not a one-time misstatement; he’s made the same claim at least five times over the past year. It doesn’t take Magellan to look at a map to see Iran has a long coast (1,100 miles), and does not border on Syria. (Note: it has been said Romney means Syria is Iran’s route to the Mediterranean. They’d still have to go through Iraq—friend or not, that will not go unnoted—and to what end? To take on all of NATO’s navies, when whatever fleet Iran can muster still has to go around Africa?) Romney either doesn’t care what he said is not true, or—what? Someone must have told him. Shown him a map. Something. Is this the person we want making war or peace decisions?

Another concern has to do with Romney’s ability—or willingness—to empathize, or even care about, people less fortunate than himself. Lyndon Johnson was a world-class SOB; Ronald Reagan was the original presidential champion of trickle-down economics. Both were able to see what needed to be done when it was needed most by the most people, set aside some differences, and get it done.

He famously said 47% of the people in this country—presumably those who pay no federal income tax—“Believe 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.” Romney either lacked the curiosity to find out—or didn’t care—that those who do not pay are predominantly those living on Social Security, disability, have legitimate deductions (itemized deductions, tax credits for education, and the income tax exemptions for everything from disability payments to interest on municipal bonds), or work and don’t make enough money to reach even the minimum threshold for income tax, even though they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Reagan would have seen the breakdown and asked what could be done to help some of those people, especially those who flat out didn’t make enough money to qualify; Johnson would have offered to kick Romney’s ass for him.

It’s become a joke, but how many people do you know put their dog on top of the car for a long trip so the luggage can ride inside? That’s not politically relevant, but it says something about the kind of person we’re dealing with.

So, who will I vote for? Come back tomorrow. It might surprise you.

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