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Mitt Romney

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Is Romney One of the 47 Percent?

18  September 2012

Is Romney One of the 47 Percent?

By Gwynne Dyer

It has always been hard for people with strong opinions to tolerate the discipline of electoral politics, which demands that they never speak their minds in public. Say what you really think, and you are bound to alienate some of the votes that you need to win. But it’s getting harder: even at private gatherings, today’s politicians are likely to be secretly video-recorded, so they must NEVER reveal their true opinions.

The latest victim of this rule is Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the US presidency. He needed to feed some red meat to the people who had paid $50,000 a head to attend a fund-raiser in May in Florida. Most of them doubtless believed that poor Americans are shiftless, Palestinians are evil, and Iranians are crazed fanatics, and they were not paying to have their views challenged. Still, he should have been more careful.

Blaming the failure of 19 years of negotiation to bring a peace settlement in the Arab-Israeli dispute entirely on the Palestinians was not going to get him in trouble at home. “The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace,” he said, which would be seen as a distortion of the truth in most parts of the world, but it does no harm to Romney domestically. Indeed, lots of Obama voters think that too.

Same goes for the bizarre scenario he drew about the alleged threat from Iran. “If I were Iran – a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb’.”

This is only one or two steps short of expressing a fear of werewolves, but in the United States this sort of discourse is routine. The US Department of Defense regularly uses equally shoddy and cynical arguments to justify its huge budget. Romney will not get into any trouble with the electorate for this “gaffe”.

Where it all went wrong was when he said that “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” referring to the Americans who don’t pay income tax. “There are 47% who are with (Obama), who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the 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.”

The audience at the fund-raiser obviously believes that, and it’s pretty likely that Romney believes it himself, but it is simply not true.

If all of the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay income tax automatically vote for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, then the Republicans can never win an election. At least not unless EVERYBODY who pays income tax votes Republican, which seems pretty unlikely.

Surely some tax-payers must vote Democratic, even if they are only Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women, Asians, union members, and effete Eastern intellectuals. And some non-taxpayers certainly do vote Republican. In fact, the Republican Party’s core strategy for decades has been to win white, working-class votes by stressing its conservative social values. Without their votes, the last Republican president would have been Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But Romney actually dismissed the importance of those voters, although white, working-class voters who are unemployed or underemployed, and pay no taxes, could make the difference between victory and defeat for him. So could retired people too poor to pay taxes, who are often social conservatives.

In Romney’s view, his role “is not to worry about those people (the 47 percent). I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” If this is not outright contempt, it comes very close.

It was especially reckless of Romney to couch the whole discourse in terms of who pay taxes or doesn’t. This from a man who has refused to release more than the past two years of his own tax returns. Why endure all the criticism about not releasing the past five years, say, if there was nothing to hide in the returns for the preceding years? Like, maybe, the possibility that Romney paid no tax at all in those previous returns.

The people who pay no taxes in the United States are the very poor and the very rich, and Romney certainly falls into the latter category. If he paid no tax at all in 2007, 2008 and 2009, say, he would have fallen into the 47 percent in those years. So should we conclude that he voted for Obama in 2008?

Probably not, and we can feel a certain sympathy for a man whose supposedly private remarks, shaped to appeal to an ultra-rich and ultra-conservative audience, have been dragged into the public domain. But he should have known better. Almost invisible to him, there was another group of people in that room who were not rich at all: the people who waited on the tables of the mighty.

It was almost certainly one of those helots who took the video of his talk. They are getting in everywhere.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9, 10 and 11. (“Surely…close”)

 

 

Armstrong and Obama

26 August 2012

Armstrong and Obama: The Abandonment of the US Manned Space Programme

By Gwynne Dyer

When the first man on the Moon died on Saturday, President Barack Obama tweeted: “Neil Armstrong was a hero not just of his time, but of all time.” Armstrong’s final comment on Obama, on the other hand, was that the president’s policy on manned space flight was “devastating”, and condemned the United States to “a long downhill slide to mediocrity.”

That was two years ago, when three Americans who had walked on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, and Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, published an open letter to Obama pointing out that his new space policy effectively ended American participation in the human exploration of deep space.

Armstrong was famously reluctant to give media interviews. It took something as hugely short-sighted as Obama’s cancellation of the Constellation programme in 2010 to make him speak out in public. But when he did, he certainly did not mince his words.

“We will have wasted our current $10-billion-plus investment in Constellation,” he said, “and equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded. For the United States…to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit…destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.”

Barack Obama was never a politician with a big international vision. He has experts to do that stuff for him, and of course they are all part of the “Washington consensus,” which is just as parochial as he is. So he cancelled the big Ares rockets that would have taken American astronauts back to the Moon and onwards to Mars and the asteroids. Some other spending programme just yelled louder. Maybe the Navy wanted another aircraft carrier.

If NASA (the National Aviation and Space Administration) wants to put an American into space now, it has to buy passage on a Russian rocket, which is currently over $50 million per seat. By 2015 the Chinese will probably be offering an alternative service (which may bring the price down), and before long India may be in the business as well. But the United States won’t.

There is likely to be a gap of between five and ten years between the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet last year and the first new American vehicles capable of putting a human being into space. Even then it will only be into low Earth orbit: none of the commercial vehicles now being developed will be able to do what the Saturn rockets did 41 years ago when they sent Neil Armstrong and his colleagues to the Moon.

Armstrong was a former military officer who would never directly call the President of the United States a liar or a fool, but his words left little doubt of what he really thought: “The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the president’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.” In other words, don’t hold your breath.

He was equally blunt about Obama’s assurances that the United States was not really giving up on deep space: “While the president’s plan envisages humans travelling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.” Not the return to the Moon by 2020 planned by the Constellation programme, but pie in the sky when you die.

This is not a global defeat for manned exploration of the solar system. The Russians are talking seriously about building a permanent base on the Moon, and all the major Asian contenders are working on heavy-lift rockets that would enable them to go beyond Earth orbit. It’s just an American loss of will, shared equally by Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“I know China is headed to the Moon,” Romney told a town hall audience in Michigan in February. “They’re planning on going to the Moon, and some people say, oh, we’ve got to get to the Moon, we’ve got to get there in a hurry to prove we can get there before China. It’s like, guys, we were there a long time ago, all right? And when you get there would you bring back some of the stuff we left?” Arrogant, complacent, and wrong.

Americans went to the Moon a long time ago, but the point is that they can’t get there now, and won’t be able to for a long time to come. Which is why, in an interview fifteen years ago, Neil Armstrong told BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh: “The dream remains. The reality has faded a bit, but it will come back, in time.” It will, but probably not in the United States.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 9. (“Barack…carrier”; and “He was…die”)

 

 

After Iowa

4 January 2008

 After Iowa

 By Gwynne Dyer

The best news from Iowa is that Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, is still in the race. He will never win the Republican presidential nomination, because his policies would throw about half of the federal government’s bureaucrats and three-quarters of the US armed forces out of work, but he is a national treasure.

“They don’t hate us because we’re free; they hate us because we’re over there,” Paul says, and advocates the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from overseas. Who else in American politics has the courage to say that? And ten percent of Iowa Republicans supported him.

The second-best news is that Hillary Clinton came third in the Democratic race, far behind Barack Obama and just behind John Edwards. She is the “Washington consensus” candidate, the candidate with the biggest, richest machine, and even if she is still likely to win the nomination eventually — the biggest machine usually wins in the end — it is heartening that Iowans backed candidates less addicted to triangulation.

The truly puzzling news is that Mike Huckabee led the Republican pack, by a margin even wider than Obama’s lead over his Democratic rivals. Not only that, but Huckabee achieved this result even though the alleged front-runner in the Republican race, Mitt Romney, outspent him in Iowa by twenty-to-one. Even allowing for the fact that Iowans are relatively conservative and include large numbers of evangelical Christians, this is a strange result.

Huckabee believes that the world was created 6,000 years ago and rejects the theory of evolution, which would make him unelectable in most other countries, but it is no great handicap on the right of American politics. He promises energy independence for the United States in ten years — “We don’t need (Saudi Arabia’s oil) any more than we need their sand” — which is pretty implausible, but clearly has appeal to an American audience. But his tax proposals are astonishingly radical.

Huckabee would simply eliminate all income and payroll taxes — “and I do mean all,” he says on his website, “personal federal, corporate federal, gift, estate, capital gains, alternative minimum, Social Security, Medicare, self-employment.” He would replace all this with a flat 23 percent national sales tax. Millionaires would pay 23 percent tax on everything they bought, and so would widowed mothers of three.

A few post-Communist regimes in Eastern Europe went to this sort of “flat tax” in a desperate attempt to jump-start their moribund economies, but at least they still had social services of a kind that scarcely exist in the United States, so there was some protection for the poor. No developed country has such a tax, because it is so brutally unfair to those living on lower incomes.

Like George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee is a congenial man with a folksy manner, and like Bush his major domestic project is to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. There are rational justifications for this in the more extreme forms of free-market ideology, but Bush’s handlers would never have advocated such a brazen assault on the poor. Subtler is always better. So how could the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 promote such a plan?

Huckabee may not remain the leading candidate past the New Hampshire primary on 8 January, but his rapid rise demonstrates the degree to which the Republican coalition that was first forged in Ronald Reagan’s time, and kept the Republicans in power for 20 of the past 28 years, is now disintegrating.

An important part of the Republican “base” consists of people who are poor enough (though not actually poor) to be badly hurt by Huckabee’s flat tax. They vote Republican because they share the party’s views on other issues, and they can ignore the fact that it does not serve their economic interests because they still believe the American myth of “equality of opportunity.” (Almost all Americans still believe it, although in fact the United States now has the lowest social mobility of any developed country.)

But Mike Huckabee’s policies are so extreme that middle- and lower-income Republican voters are almost bound to realise that they would suffer. In a more pragmatic time, the party elders would never have let such a divisive character gain such prominence, but now they can’t or won’t control it.

It was always hard to keep the richest 20 percent of the population, the “family values” crowd, the evangelicals (not necessarily the same thing), and the “angry white men” all harnessed to the same wagon,but the Republican Party managed it for almost thirty years. Now the coalition is unravelling.

Mitt Romney is the photo-fit candidate who best embodies the old coalition in this race — he even changed a number of his opinions to conform to the profile — but the formula doesn’t seem to be working this time. And none of the other leading candidates can appeal to all the different elements of that coalition. Not Huckabee, not John McCain, andcertainly not Rudy Giuliani.

What this may mean is that after two terms of George Bush, the Republican Party’s elders don’t really have much hope of winning this election. Let the lunatic fringe have its day, and we’ll do better next time.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 9. (“Huckabee believes…radical”; and “Huckabee may not…disintegrating)