September 2, 2012 · 1 Comments
By Marie Burns:
While the Republican convention was in full swing, I suspect the real leaders of Right Wing World were busy handing out their campaign-season assignments. To Ross Douthat of the New York Times they assigned the unenviable task of convincing the paper’s liberal readers to vote Republican this year. To that end, Douthat has written a preposterous column titled “Franklin Delano Romney” in which he attempts to draw parallels between GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Franklin Roosevelt. Other than being rich men who were briefly governors of Northeastern states, Roosevelt and Romney have almost nothing in common, so in an act of desperation, Douthat claims their convention speeches were alike. I imagine you could demonstrate that any two presidential nomination acceptance speeches have common elements. After all, no matter the speaker, the purpose of the speech is always the same: yes, I’ll do the job, and I’ll do it well. Both Romney and Roosevelt said that, of course, but beyond that, there is little similarity between the two acceptance speeches. Actually, Herbert Hoover’s 1932 acceptance speech seems to me to have a great deal more in common with F.D.R.’s 1932 acceptance speech than either has in common with Romney’s speech last week.
In fact, I am struck by how different Romney’s convention speech was from Roosevelt’s and Hoover’s. Both Roosevelt and Hoover devoted their entire speeches to issues of general public concern. There was only a whiff of personal history in their speeches, and then only as it related to their policies. Ironically, both Roosevelt and Hoover had compelling hard-luck personal stories they could have told: Roosevelt, of course, overcame polio, and Hoover was orphaned as a child and passed from relative to relative in his formative years. Romney, who has suffered few personal hardships and so has no interesting personal narrative to share, spent the bulk of his speech “humanizing” himself – talking about his family, his business, his church.
Here is Douthat’s only “evidence” in support of his claim that we should see Willard Mitt as “Franklin Delano Romney”: in his speech, Romney promised to “’work hard’ … in pursuit of ‘jobs, lots of jobs,’ work that would ‘solve the problems that others say can’t be solved’ and ‘fix what others say is beyond repair.’” Really? Despite Romney’s reputation for hard work, most of his effort seems to have been in pursuit of his own interests. Frank Rich of New York magazine wrote that “A longtime Republican, after watching Romney’s vacuous, failed senatorial campaign against Teddy Kennedy in 1994, came to the early conclusion that Mitt’s ‘main cause appeared to be himself.’ This was borne out in 2006, when Romney spent more than 200 days out of Massachusetts ginning up a presidential run rather than attending to his duties as the state’s chief executive.” Maybe Romney didn’t feel the need to “work hard” for Massachusetts because, as his wife Ann said the other day, “Poor guy, he took … no pay when he was governor for four years.” The governor gig was just a hobby.
Douthat sees Romney’s promise to “work hard” to create “lots of jobs” as “a kind of right-of-center rhyme to Roosevelt’s campaign promise of ‘bold, persistent experimentation,’ his exhortation to ‘above all, try something,’ without necessarily specifying what that something might be.” Douthat’s claim is pure nonsense. Romney’s promise of “lots of jobs” is specifically, to create 12 million jobs over the next four years. But as Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post (and many others) point out, “Moody’s Analytics … predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president.” (Emphasis added.) Why, exactly, would Romney have to “work hard” to do what Moody’s and other analysts say is likely to occur without his lifting a finger?
Romney never gave a single example of “a problem that others say can’t be solved,” so this is more of a rhetorical flourish than a campaign promise. I will say that one labor problem “others” sometimes claim is insoluble is competition from low-wage countries. I guess that isn’t something the “Pioneer of Outsourcing” would want to hold up as a problem he can solve. Recently, Sensata Technologies, a company owned by Bain Capital, laid “off workers in order to hire employees in China…. Some of the workers, according to Sensata employees, have been forced to train their Chinese replacements….” Although Romney was not directly involved in offshoring the Sensata jobs, his continuing financial interest in Bain Capital means he profits from it.
Romney never even hinted at “bold, persistent experimentation” in his convention speech. Instead, he offered only time-worn Republican bromides – create energy independence through exploitation of oil, gas and coal (he made fun of efforts to “heal the planet”); improve education via school choice (i.e., privatization – that is, award more taxpayer dollars to unaccountable for-profit outfits); cut new trade agreements; lower the deficit (never mind that his specific policy plan would increase the deficit by about $3 trillion over ten years); champion small business (something President Obama has relentlessly pushed); and this election cycle favorite: “repeal and replace ObamaCare.” Haven’t we been “experimenting” with no ObamaCare for 200-plus years? Romney won’t say what-all he would put in place of ObamaCare, although he promised Jay Leno his plan would deny coverage to uninsured people with pre-existing conditions. Also, he has recently doubled down on a promise to return $716 billion in ObamaCare cost savings to Medicare, a plan that would be exceptionally costly to seniors: Jackie Calmes of the New York Times reported that, according to experts, “restoring the $716 billion in Medicare savings would increase premiums and co-payments for beneficiaries by $342 a year on average over the next decade; in 2022, the average increase would be $577.” Thanks a bunch, Mitt.
All of this same-ole, same-ole is fine with Douthat, because after having made the case that Romney’s speech was like Roosevelt’s because, um, something, something, “bold, persistent experimentation,” Douthat eventually concludes that trying new things is a lousy way to govern: “Roosevelt flailed as often as he flourished, and boldness and experimentation untempered by principle and modesty have been responsible for many more recent presidential failures as well.” Wow! It’s a good thing Romney is nothing like Roosevelt!
Based on the “evidence” that Romney is a lot like Roosevelt – or not – Douthat devotes the rest of his column to reassuring liberal and moderate readers that Romney will govern from the center: He writes that while “a President Romney would have to operate within the broad framework of conservatism,” he would have the power to “shape and even redefine that framework.” Douthat implies that Romney’s selecting Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee was nothing more than a clever trick to “bring a potential critic and rival inside the administration’s camp.” Douthat writes that Romney’s vague speech was a ploy to tell “conservative and independent” voters “roughly what they want to hear, while leaving [himself] enough flexibility” to govern non-ideologically. Don’t pay any attention to what Mitt said in his speech, folks. He’s a liar! And really tricky!
Douthat ends his column on this note: “… if you’re looking for a best-case scenario for a Romney presidency, you have to hope that his Mr. Fix-It impulses will work out for the best – and that rather than being a model of moderation or a paragon of purity, he’ll be a president who tries, and tries, and ultimately gets things right.”
Let’s review: Romney is a lot like F.D.R. because both gave convention speeches where they promised to experiment. But Romney didn’t promise to experiment. Because experimentation is a bad idea. So Romney will experiment till he gets it right. If you think Douthat makes sense, maybe Mitt Romney is your guy.
Tune in next week when “Ask Douthat” will answer the question “How Is Mitt Romney Like Abe Lincoln?”
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com