By Jay Hansen
I’d like to take a moment to expound upon my final point from my recent article Brace Yourself. In it, I begged the question; could a paper bag defeat Jesus Christ in a Presidential election if the paper bag had literally limitless (or at least billions in) campaign funds for advertising, propaganda, media time, and other exposure? Obviously this was an analogy for Mitt Romney himself, but I don’t feel I elaborated upon the magnitude of the analogy’s application to this election.
Obama is certainly no Jesus Christ, but Mitt Romney’s appeal seems to parallel that of the paper bag. He is one of the most disliked presidential candidates in modern history, and largely because he’s just a sleazy politician and an out of touch, arguably unethical, wealthy businessman. Just recently, within a matter of days, he proclaimed that the mandate in the Affordable Care Act was not a tax, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had ruled it so. Literally a few days later, he decided that it was in fact a tax after the rest of the Republican Party decided to go in that direction. On the same day though, in the same interview, he says that the mandate in his health care reform law was not a tax, despite the fact that the mandates in the two laws are structurally identical, or at least extremely similar. In the words of Cenk Uygur, the interviewer must have been, to put it lightly, frustrated, stifling his urge to shout “but you JUST said…” Of course, being of the mainstream media, the interviewer couldn’t call him out on that. God forbid a journalist not be severely neutral.
To put it another, more humorous way, think of it as Schrödinger’s Mandate; it is both a tax and not a tax at the same time according to Mitt Romney and the Republicans.
As for his business practices, I haven’t really delved too deeply into them this election because I’d much rather focus on Romney’s policies and track record as a politician, primarily the Governor of Massachusetts. The problem is though, Romney himself seems amazingly disinterested in running as a former Governor. Think about that for a moment; this man, in this political environment, in this anti-Wall Street and anti-big business atmosphere, genuinely believes the best political strategy to pursue is to run as a businessman from a huge financial firm. Right off the bat, this only goes to deepen, perhaps more so than any controversy or gaffe yet, just how out-of-touch Romney is with the average working-class American. He’s running for public office in one of the most finance-hostile environments we’ve seen in generations, and he thinks his tenure at Bain Capital will win him votes? Either he’s hopelessly out of touch, or he thinks his political career or even just time as Governor was such an absolute disaster that he’d best just take another path.
So, if Romney wants to play on those terms, I’ll play on those terms. What Romney did at Bain, and what Bain Capitol does, for those of you who don’t know, is what’s commonly referred to as “vulture” capitalism. Bain would purchase weakened businesses of all sizes for a substantially lower price because the owner wanted to sell while he or she could still get some money for it before their ship sank entirely. Immediately afterwards, Bain would either dramatically reform or “chop up” the company and sell off its parts, sometimes completely disassembling the business, laying off dozens if not hundreds of employees, all because the sum total worth of the business’ assets was worth more than the business itself in such a dilapidated state. Hence the name “vulture” capitalism; a big, powerful “vulture” financial firm would hunt down weak and dying businesses and buy them in order to turn around and destroy it for profit. This was the kind of businessman Mitt Romney was, the kind of businessman he still is, and the kind of Capitalism in which he believes.
Mitt Romney founded Bain Capital in 1984 and was the first CEO. One-quarter of all companies purchased by Bain ultimately went bankrupt because of the purchase, causing hundreds to lose their jobs when this happened, and Bain would still profit off the purchase. Therefore, Bain Capital, with Mitt Romney as the CEO, did in fact profit from destroying jobs. When confronted with this in a primary debate earlier this year, Romney dismissed the accusation as the free market and “free enterprise” at work. In the words of CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital “fired a lot of people [to] get prosperity for the rich.”
If you lost your job because Romney wanted to sell off the parts of you company to make more profit; too bad! Here’s some boot straps; pull yourself up. That’s Romney’s free market. That’s Romney’s vision of capitalism. That’s Romney’s America.
That’s not the only thing Bain profited from, of course. Most businesses purchased by Bain did survive and turn a profit for them, such as Stericycle. Stericycle is a company that disposes of aborted fetuses, meaning Bain profited from abortion as well. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that, but something tells me the so-called conservatives (if in name only) that support Romney might. Now, Bain did purchase Stericycle a few months after Romney resigned as CEO, but while he was still heavily involved in decision making for the company and personally profited from it (Motherjones has the documentation here), and while Romney was still pro-choice, I should add.
Based on Romney’s decision to run on this instead of his political career, most would agree that the Republican’s primary political strategy in 2012 is promoting the idea that making a lot of money makes you a winner and the most qualified candidate for office. Speaker of the House John Boehner, in his traditional foot-in-mouth manner, openly admitted as much. Never mind all the jobs destroyed by Romney. Never mind the horrible hypocrisy of his business ethics and political stances. Just focus on how much money he’s made because, especially after Citizen’s United, money makes you better, right?
Romney’s supporters and even fellow Bain executives and senior members would agree. Edward Conard, former Director of Bain, believes that the income inequality in America, which is already more severe than that of the Ivory Coast or Ancient Rome, is a good thing, and that we need more of it. Apparently Romney isn’t the only decision maker from Bain to think the free market and economy are working best when more and more people are suffering. The sad thing is that this isn’t even unheard of or out of the ordinary; it’s become an acceptable aspect of the financial sector and Bain’s usual business. Nearly a fourth of all senior executives working in the field believe it’s necessary for people to engage in illegal or unethical behavior and business practices in order to succeed in the field. They just accept it, as if to think “well, of course he embezzled funds and swindled his own clients… duh. That’s how things work here. Now get me a coffee.”
Of course, to the common person, this is barely news. It’s well accepted fact that the wealthy and powerful are corrupt. This graph brings together many fascinating studies done that largely prove the wealthy are far more unethical than the poor. It’s very large, so I won’t post the whole thing mid-article, but it does, at the least, make you think. It gives you a better appreciation for just how much money corrupts, or perhaps, just maybe, we have a system where the most corrupted and unethical are rewarded with the most money (i.e. chicken or egg; did the money corrupt them, or are the unethical capable of getting more money because of our system?).
Despite all of this, and the most powerful anti-Wall Street environment in over a generation, this is the kind of man Romney is choosing to run as, and not as the former Governor of Massachusetts. That’s probably because his record there really isn’t any better. During his time as Governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth, and lost 14% of its manufacturing jobs. So no matter how you slice it, from the businessman in Romney or the Governor, he’s got a terrible track record of job creation in the eyes of the American people. As Governor, he preformed horribly, but arguably still grew his economy a tiny bit (just less than almost anyone else). As a businessman, he literally profited from destroying jobs. Even the few things he does brag about from his political career aren’t exactly things of which he should be proud. Under Governor Romney, Massachusetts’ unemployment rate dropped nearly a whole percentage point. A worthy number to flaunt, until you look deeper. One of the largest contributing factors as to why it dropped is because Massachusetts’ labor force plummeted worse than nearly any other state under Romney’s Governorship. The state experienced a net loss of 222,000 residents under Romney, likely to look for work elsewhere. Only a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana saw more people leave the state during this time frame.
The largest claim Romney keeps making, however, is that he balanced the budget while Governor of Massachusetts. This is the absolute most ridiculous of all Romney’s “records” he flaunts, because it is written into the Massachusetts state Constitution that the budget must be balanced. So yes, Romney balanced the state budget, as did Michael Dukakis, the failed Democratic opponent to George H. W. Bush in 1988, and virtually every other Governor of Massachusetts in modern history, Democrat or Republican.
We sure haven’t had a lot of luck with politicians from Massachusetts in the past few decades…
But we all know the real reason he’s not running on his political record; he would have to somehow explain his constant flip-flops on the issue. He used to be pro-choice, now he’s pro-life. He used to think the health care mandate was constitutional, then unconstitutional, and now constitutional again. He said the mandate wasn’t a tax, but then it was a tax, and his mandate wasn’t a tax, yet Obama’s is. Romney himself claims he doesn’t have a political career and is no career politician, despite the fact that he was Governor, unsuccessfully ran for Senator, unsuccessfully ran for President twice, and is now the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party. To be fair to Romney though, Cenk Uygur made this fascinating point:
Of all his inconsistencies though, most importantly, Romney would have to explain how he plans to lower the deficit while at the same time provide trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy and while increasing defense spending. Nearly all economists not being paid by Romney, the Republican Party, or right-wing think tanks literally can’t figure out how his plan will actually reduce the deficit. The amount of economic growth needed for it to work is simply not possible. I guess Romney figures he’s not in Massachusetts anymore, so there’s no legal requirement he keep a balanced budget.
So, Romney’s track record as a businessman and a Governor teach us this; he won’t balance the budget, job creation will stagnate if not go down, taxes will be cut for the wealthy, Wall Street and the financial sector will be further deregulated, and now we learn he plans to fill his entire cabinet with other businessmen, and not experts in the respective fields. Or, as Romney put it, he won’t be putting politicians or “academics” in his cabinet.
Yeah, the last thing this nation needs is more academic people. They’re tearing this country a part, I tell you!
I’ll spare you a speech on the Republican’s war on education, as Romney is not the first to oppose academics. His biggest primary opponent Rick Santorum opposed both public and higher education, and thought that academia is Satanic, while the Texas Republican Party has now adopted opposition to teaching critical thinking skills in public schools as part of its party platform because they believe it violates the parents’ right to teach the child lies and bullshit that isn’t true. That’s all I’ll say about that, and really, do I need to say anything more? Why are so many people still supporting this party? They LITERALLY want you dumber!
And for the cherry on top of all of this; delightfully, hilariously, and tragically tying all of Romney’s business and political records together, was his proposal for what he should be paid as President. First of all, what kind of arrogant prick even discusses what his salary should be as President while running for office? For Romney, this is just another job where he feels entitled to haggle for a better salary; it has nothing to do with actually representing the American people or the responsibilities therein. But then it gets better; Mitt Romney actually believes he deserves to get a raise as the President of the United States if he can improve the economy, which was literally a Saturday Night Live skit from 20 years ago. First of all, based off his plans, he won’t improve it; does that mean his salary would go down? And how does one measure improvement? More importantly, who measures improvement? Romney’s friend he appointed to some government agency? I’m sure that’ll work out fine. It’s not like there’s corruption in the government, least of all among Romney’s closest circle of friends, right?
This is not a private sector business that needs managing Romney; it’s a nation, and that seems to be the primary flaw in virtually everything Romney touts and claims he would do as President. We don’t want a CEO of the United States of America, we want a President of the United States of America.
Do you understand now why I say Romney is a paper bag? There’s literally no significant appeal about him to a vast majority of the voting public, but Romney is a paper bag that’s been stuffed full of limitless amounts of money. This is exactly why this election is very important. Its outcome could answer the question of just how doomed our democracy, or any democracy, ultimately is based on the corrupting and manipulating power of money. Could it be enough for a paper bag to beat Jesus Christ in a Presidential election?
Of course, as I said at the beginning of the article, Obama is certainly no Jesus Christ. Hell, he’s not even a Superman. I’d say he’s maybe an Aquaman, but that would imply he’s serious about helping the environment or stopping global warming. So Obama is more like… a chameleon. He adapts to whatever environment he is in to both please others and survive. If he’s put in a primary against a bunch of other Democrats, he’ll be the most progressive man in the nation. Put him in the most establishment-minded city filled with conservatives in his cabinet, Congress, and media and he’ll become an establishment-minded conservative. He can’t help it; it’s instinct, just like a chameleon. Plus, my girlfriend is always reminding me of how fragile and weak chameleons are compared to other reptiles, so he fits the bill that way too.
Decision 2012: Paper bag vs. Chameleon. Prepare yourself for an election that will… eh, you know what? Don’t prepare yourself. Don’t even bother buckling your seat belts. Just go grab a snack or something and wait for it to all pass over.