What to Read on Mitt Romney

Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot — Robert Draper

Romney, a socially awkward Mormon with squishy conservative credentials and a reported worth in the range of $190 million to $250 million, is betting that in 2012, recession-weary voters want a fixer, not a B.F.F.

Romney has quietly courted key figures in the Tea Party movement since its inception two years ago: among his PAC’s first donations was one to the Congressional campaign of Michele Bachmann; he was the first major figure to endorse the current South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley; and he also gave to the losing campaigns of Sharron Angle of Nevada and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware.

…Iowa’s most prominent Tea Party activist, Ryan Rhodes…said, “You look at his health care plan, the fact that he hired people who lobbied for Solyndra — it takes those issues off the table that you could tie around Obama’s neck.” He went on: “I don’t think he has a major belief system. He’s Mitt Romney. He’’s a manager, O.K.?”

To his admiring subordinates, Romney is the man who, while waiting in an aide’s garage during an advertising shoot, took it upon himself to sweep it spick-and-span. He is the boss who hosted a 2008 post-mortem at his house in Belmont, Mass., and instead of demanding answers or fixing blame, passed out photo albums of the campaign for each staff member to keep. One longtime aide maintains that Romney is, no matter how much of a corporate barracuda the Democrats make him out to be, “more Richie Cunningham of ‘Happy Days’ than Gordon Gekko’” of “Wall Street.” And he possesses an almost otherworldly unflappability — seen, for example, on a public street in 2009, when a detractor who recognized Romney cursed at him.”Well!” remarked Romney to a companion. “I guess somebody’s having a bad day!”

Romney’s associates maintain that his genial and humble aspect masks a voracious intellect. A longtime friend of Romney’s explained to me that a desire to digest all available viewpoints was the thread that ran through the candidate’s entire professional life. At Bain Capital, said the friend, Romney “wanted hardworking people who would challenge him — he plays devil-s advocate, trying not only to understand what you think the answer is but what your depth of thinking is.” While turning around the troubled Winter Olympics in Utah, “he brought in a management team with divergent views.” As governor, Romney “wanted a cabinet that would argue different points of view.”

Asked what President Romney would have done during his first days in office, in lieu of a federal stimulus, to address the market meltdown, [the campaign’s policy director Lanhee] Chen rattled off a few likely options: “Lowering the corporate tax rate. Enacting a permanent extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Immediately ratifying our pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. In the energy sector, freeing up the necessary land to enable greater domestic production.” He did not make clear how Romney would have steered these boilerplate conservative proposals through a Democrat-controlled Congress.

I asked Chen about Romney’s recent recommendation that the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment of the Arts be targeted for federal spending cuts. Was the candidate proposing that these two federal agencies, long opposed by conservative groups, be eliminated altogether? “We haven’t specifically discussed that,” Chen said.

These programs had a combined annual budget of less than $500 million. Meanwhile, Romney previously criticized President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D prescription-drug program for its exorbitant cost — “the actual balance-sheet impact . . . [is] now estimated to be approximately $8 trillion,” he wrote. Had Romney discussed repealing the pricey entitlement? “It was not under consideration,” Chen replied

Romney’s policy director had thorough responses to about half of my inquiries. He didn’t know if the candidate’s heavy criticism of Obama’s “green jobs” initiatives meant that Romney was skeptical of a green-jobs industry on its face. He didn’t know what exemptions Romney would eliminate in pursuit of a flatter tax code. Asked if Romney agreed with Michele Bachmann’s sentiment that every adult American should pay taxes, Chen replied, “I don’t have anything for you there.”

Romney Protecting the Rich — Linda M. Beale

Romney reveals the way patrician wealth has affected his values, casting President Obama as a “European social democrat” and suggesting that contrasts with his own belief in a “merit-based opportunity society — where people earn their rewards based upon their education, their work, their willingness to take risks and their dreams.”

Even Romney admitted (obviously unintentionally) that wealth makes a real difference, since he noted that rewards depend in part on education. People with wealth receive the finest educations… The poor and middle class take on enormous loans and work loads… That makes study and grades and success much more difficult for them.

The poor…don’t usually have the kind of capital nest-egg to take a risk with in the way that Romney means it… And those with contacts and money are able (and willing) to hire the best lobbyists to ensure that they get all the tax-advantaged benefits and subsidies that they can finnangle (or buy) from local, state and federal legislators for their activities.  That includes favorable tax provisions that allow them to keep a significant percentage of their wealth (and to fight for even more favorable provisions), such as the carried interest provision that gave Romney a preferential rate on almost all of his compensation income…

That’s not a merit-based opportunity society: it’s an influence-based society, where the poor and even most of the middle class are working against long odds to make headway.

Romney’s plan…calls for extending the Bush tax cuts, cutting the statutory corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, and eliminating capital gains and dividends taxes only for those who make $200,000 or less. Romney won’t even say he supports a consumption tax til he’s studied it more, though he likes the purported “simplicity” of a flat tax.

So after a decade of cutting taxes on the wealthy and passing more and more provisions that benefit the wealthy in particular either directly or indirectly, Romney declares today’s status quo as the perfect state for things to be in — the current low taxes on the wealthy, in perpetuity, are his goal.

Romney, Gingrich Ignore Culprits in Financial Crisis Blame — David J. Lynch

The leading Republican candidates for president have embraced an explanation of the financial crisis that has been rejected by the chairman of the Federal Reserve, many economists and even three of the four Republicans on the government commission that investigated the meltdown.

Both…Newt Gingrich and…Mitt Romney lay much of the blame on U.S. government housing policies…

Unregulated private lenders who sought profits in risky subprime loans were bigger contributors to the crash than federal housing policy, critics of the Republican argument say. They also point to simultaneous housing bubbles in other countries beyond the reach of U.S laws and surges in the value of non-housing investments such as corporate bonds.

Wall Street’s Bad Romance with Wall Street — Ben Adler

He criticizes President Obama for “taking advice from the Harvard faculty lounge,” even though Romney himself holds law and business degrees from Harvard and counts Harvard professors among his economic and foreign policy advisers.

With the exception of Texas Governor Rick Perry, no other candidate has comparable corporate support. Through the second quarter of 2011, before Perry entered the race, Romney raised $17.6 million, more than all his GOP opponents combined. In the third quarter, ending on September 30, Romney piled on an additional $13.9 million.

Whereas President Obama raised 45 percent of his campaign funds through the third quarter from donors who gave less than $200, only 9 percent of Romney’s money came from small donors. While right-wing insurgents like Michele Bachmann rely on small donations coming in over the Internet, Romney collects checks from a small group of rich businessmen. And they are indeed overwhelmingly men: 70 percent of them, compared to 56 percent of Obama’s donors. More than 8,000 donors have given Romney the maximum of $2,500, compared to less than 6,000 maximum donors for Obama. As of the end of the third quarter, the two candidates now competing with Romney for primacy in the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, had raised $12.6 million and $2.9 million for the entire cycle, respectively. Both were far more dependent on small donors than Romney.

Romney’s big individual donors hail from major financial institutions. His top five companies are all banks or financial service firms: Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, HIG Capital and Barclay’s. Bank of America and PricewaterhouseCoopers help round out his top ten. None of these firms — indeed, no financial companies at all — appear in Obama’s top ten.

Romney opposed raising the debt ceiling, which would have set the bond markets into a tailspin. His economic plan would freeze or reverse the recovery by cutting domestic spending. By refusing to let federal spending rise above 20 percent of GDP, he would prevent the government from digging us out of future recessions. At the same time, he would offset savings from his spending cuts by increasing our bloated defense budget, and he would not be able to balance the budget because he wants to cut taxes.

As governor of Massachusetts he presided over the forty-seventh-best rate of job growth in the nation, better than only Ohio, Michigan and Hurricane Katrina–devastated Louisiana. And he frequently put conservative ideology — or political ambition — ahead of his state’s economic interests. He restricted embryonic stem cell research and opposed renewable energy investment, despite the fact that scientific research is an important and growing sector of the Massachusetts economy. Betting that Romney doesn’t mean the silly things he says now is an awfully risky proposition.

Mitt Romney Goes Glenn Beck — Jonathan Chait

In eight sentences, Romney asserts over and over again that Obama wants to create “equal outcomes” and give everybody the “same rewards.” This is nuts, Glenn Beck–level insane. Restoring Clinton-era taxes is not a plan to equalize outcomes, or even close. It’s not even a plan to stop rising inequality. Obama’s America will continue to be the most unequal society in the advanced world — only slightly less so. The alternative proposals accelerate inequality even further.

Another Major Flip Flop: Romney Claims Government Support “Kills Solar Energy” — Stephen Lacey

…when he became governor of Massachusetts, [Romney] set up a Green Energy Fund in his state to “to provide equity capital, loans and management assistance to Massachusetts-based renewable energy businesses.”

But now,…Romney is claiming the federal loan guarantee program that helped leverage tens of billions in private capital will cause investments to “disappear.”

That must be why…General Electric is building a 400-MW thin film solar manufacturing facility in Colorado on its own. Or why companies like Google are throwing tens of millions of dollars behind solar projects throughout the U.S., helping accelerate the solar market into another record year.

Polling Data Contradicts Romney’s Assertion That Pakistanis Are ‘Comfortable’ with Drone Strikes — Eli Clifton

…Romney told the audience at [the] CBS News/National Journal debate that Pakistan is “comfortable” with U.S. drone strikes within their borders.

A Pew poll…from July, 2010, found that 93 percent of Pakistanis who are familiar with drone strikes think they are a bad idea, and 56 percent of Pakistanis who have heard of drone attacks say they are unnecessary to defend against extremist groups. Ninety percent thought the strikes kill too many innocent people.

Why Mitt Romney’s Entitlement-Privatization Plan Is Crazy — Matt Taibbi

Your typical Medicare/Social Security recipient might already have been ripped off three different ways…

He might have been sold a crappy mortgage or a refi by a Countrywide-type firm (which often targeted the elderly). He might then also have unwittingly become an investor in such mortgages and seen the value of his retirement holdings devastated (many of the banks sold their crappy mortgage-backed securities to state pension funds).

Lastly, if he paid taxes, he saw part of his tax money go to pay off the bets the banks made against these same mortgages.

So now that Wall Street has ripped off this segment of society three times,…Mitt Romney — a former Wall Street superstar who was a chief architect of the modern executive-compensation-driven corporation — is…telling us that we need to cut their Medicare and Social Security benefits in order to defray the cost of the previous three scams.

We’ve just witnessed an episode of industry-wide financial mismanagement that surely has no parallel in history. …virtually every single one of America’s leading financial institutions from the last decade is either already out of business or functionally insolvent and living off government life support and cheap cash from the Fed.

And these are the people we want managing the nation’s Social Security accounts?

Should Israel Be in Charge of U.S. Middle East Policy? — Stephen M. Walt

Romney said: “The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders. I don’t seek to take actions independent of what our allies think is best, and if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts, then that’s something I’ll be inclined to do.”

One can grasp the logic here by substituting the name of any other U.S. ally in Romney’s statement, even close allies like Great Britain or Japan or Germany. Would any presidential candidate tell a reporter “The actions I will take [in Asia] will be ones recommended and supported by Japanese [or Australian or South Korean] leaders”? Would any president declare that his policies toward Europe should be determined by Merkel, Cameron, Sarkozy, or (god forbid) Berlusconi?

So either Romney genuinely believes that Israel’s leaders always know what is best for their country and best for the United States…, or he simply doesn’t understand how international politics works. Either possibility is, to put it mildly, worrisome.

The Republican Candidates’ History on Mandates — Sarah Kliff

As Massachusetts governor, Romney signed the state’s 2006 health reform package that required Massachusetts residents to purchase insurance coverage or pay a penalty. The fine for not carrying health insurance has increased each year and, in 2011, will be as high as $1,200. In an interview with Sean Hannity in September, Romney described the mandate as a “conservative idea to say, you know what? People have a responsibility for caring for themselves if they can.” He has also criticized the federal mandate as “a government takeover of health care,” arguing that such decisions about health care mandates ought to be left to the states.

Clueless Republicans Demand More Militarism — Philip Giraldi

In spite of the fact that Washington spends as much as the rest of the world on what it refers to as defense, [Romney] wants to “…make long-overdue investments in our military. Modernize air and naval forces, weapons systems, and equipment. Grow the number of troops and ensure that funds go to their needs and care. Establish robust missile defense and repair and update our nuclear arsenal. Oppose efforts to cut our military budget.”

Romney Misrepresents Obama’s Iran Record, Calls for ‘Credible Military Threat’ That Already Exists — Ali Gharib

Romney…discussed what he would do about Iran: “…No. 1 was making sure that we put in place crippling sanctions. No. 2 was communicating on the ground in Iran what the cost means to them of becoming a nuclear nation. They would be in a circle of suspects if either nuclear device were being tested or to be applied anywhere in the world. […] No. 7 is you have to have a credible military threat. [Obama] hasn’t put together [that] kind of military credibility in terms of planning or communications…”

…the U.S. [already imposes] strict economic and human rights sanctions on [Iran]…

…as far as military “planning,” Obama has pledged to keep all options all the table.

And that doesn’t even begin to account for the covert actions taken by the U.S. to thwart the Iranian nuclear program. What we know — that the U.S. and Israel worked together to develop and deploy the Stuxnet computer virus that crippled Iran’s nuclear centrifuges — is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

The Obama administration, in other words, is doing exactly the things Romney says it is not. As for the public bluster about all of it, Iranian dissidents have praised Obama for setting that rhetoric aside, crediting the move with creating the political space that allowed for the rise of the Green opposition movement. One wonders what the Green Movement might think of Romney, whose foreign policy adviser has advocated for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a group considered terrorists by the U.S. and hated by the the Greens.

Best of the Week: November 29-December 5, 2009