It Isn’t Envy, Mr. Romney, and It Isn’t a War on Capitalism Either

14 01 2012

Mitt Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at his campaign presentation. Rather than pointing out his experience in the actually process of governing, Mr. Romney has chosen to campaign on his career in the private sector as a “conservative businessman” and “job creator”, as he often describes himself at campaign stops and in debates. After winning the New Hampshire primary, he gave a victory speech that bypassed his primary opponents and blasted the President for engaging in “the bitter politics of envy”. On Wednesday morning, NBC’s Today Show host Matt Lauer asked specifically about that choice of phrase.

So, if you dare to raise questions about Mr. Romney’s business decisions, it’s just because you’re so jealous of him. Can you possibly get a more self-absorbed sound byte? It made me think of Gordon Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” speech from the movie Wall Street.

No, Mr. Romney, everyone who whats to see proof of your claims of net job creation and wants to know whether your decisions regarding the leveraging of debt and the mass layoffs were the actions of a shrewd businessman or a corporate profiteer is not envious of you. They are vetting you, sir. That is what happens in a campaign. You make claims that you’ve done fabulous things, people say “Oh yeah, prove it,” and then you either give them the proof they’re asking for or they will go off and find it on their own. Also, the more time it takes you to prove your claims – the more you squirm, and hedge, and try to explain why no proof should be needed because you’re such a nice guy or whatever your excuses are – the more people will start to wonder if you’re trying to hide something from them. Running for president is, after all, a candidate applying to the American public for the job of running the country. Asking for more in-depth information on the business practices of the man running for office under the banner of “the business guy” is not anything I see as questionable. To return to my job application analogy, it can be likened to a potential employer asking for references at a job interview. The more cagey an applicant about supplying the references, the more the employer will no doubt wonder if there is something that this applicant might be misrepresenting. Does the “scheduling conflict ” they listed as their reason for leaving Company X really mean that it clashed with their grad school courses, or could it be that this person’s definition of “lunch break” more closely resembled the rest of the world’s definition of “afternoon off?”, the prospective boss might think and questions like those floating around in potential employer’s mind doesn’t bode well for the bumbling applicant. The best thing Mr. Romney could do for himself right now is open up about his Bane Capitol days. It’s not like Democrats won’t be asking these questions in the general election if he makes it to the next round.

My other issue with Mr. Romney and his supporters is that while they condemn those to there left for using what they deem to be the rhetoric of class warfare, they are waging a pretty good battle on that front themselves by labeling those who would criticize predatory capitalism, what most would consider unethical, “bad” business practices, as trying to destroy capitalism in general. That argument make absolutely no sense at all and yet it is everywhere. This becomes crystal clear if you use this logic outside the realm of election year economic policy. For example, if I say that I don’t like a particular painting, then using, this thought process, I am against painting as an art form and trying to engineer its demise. If I don’t like a particular book, then I am obviously crusading against all of literature. If I eat brussels sprouts and say “yuck,”, then I am really saying “DOWN WITH VEGETABLES!” In every other context this line of pseudo-reasoning is quickly and easily identifiable as a heap of bullfunky, but apparently if you’re talking about how big money people make big money when one of them want to be President, such talk is apparently tantamount to heresy in this country and particularly in this country’s Republican party.

There is nothing wrong with examining our economic system to see if it is working effectively and doing a little routine maintenance when it’s needed to keep the country moving. You can have vibrant and competitive capitalism without allowing it to become predatory. It’s all in how the game is played and what the rules are. Many people have a problem with the practice of outsourcing, for example, and it has been stripping the country of  jobs since the eighties, yet there are tax incentives for companies that outsource and business organizations support this practice and lobby to keep it as an accepted way to do business in America, but not really in America. Until the incentives to send jobs overseas are eliminated and perhaps there are even incentives set up to bring jobs back here, we will continue to be bled of every job it is possible to outsource because that makes these companies the greatest profit. That’s not a criticism or a compliment, it’s math.

That brings me to another point – corporations are not people. The best analogy I can come up with is that corporations are like robots. They have a few things in common with people – they can be sued, etc – but they are basically computers running on a yes/no system (hello, binary) which analyzes whether or not a given circumstance is profitable. If the answer is yes, that options chosen. That’s it. There are no emotions involved. Workers don’t matter beyond their productivity to cost ratio. You can’t be angry about it not having feelings or empathy – it’s just a machine after all – so if you want to change its behavior, you have to alter the program it runs on. We have a minimum wage, so even though it would be more profitable to pay American workers a dollar an hour, the robot of an American business, let’s call it RoboCorp, won’t do that because the program it runs on tell’s it that it can’t.  RoboCorps large and small run off of the same basic program – the rules our economy runs on. We have to engage in a national discussion about the economy to decide if changing laws is necessary and if so, then what needs to be changed.

That is the discussion that is being derided as anti-business by Mitt Romney and his surrogates. In that video Mr. Romney says that talk of the economy should take place in “quiet rooms” and that brings to mind images of the Gilded Age when the titans of industry would meet in private clubs and decide what the rules were among themselves and far away from the little people who worked for them. Those workers could vote, well, as long as they were male citizens over the age of 21 and in some places they kind of had to be white too, but, voters or not, they couldn’t be part of any serious economic dialogue because they didn’t have enough power or money. They didn’t know the right people in the right context, they didn’t belong to the right clubs, etc. That’s not how things are supposed to work now a century later. I’m not naive enough to think that power and money don’t buy influence in this day and age, but everyone should be able, and is able, to discuss economic policy just as they do foreign policy and social issues. No quiet rooms required.

The Rachel Maddow show Thursday night brought up another point last night and I thought it was worth a mention. (The video is long, it wouldn’t embed, and there is a somewhat related story about a dog and his bodily functions. Sorry.)

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As mentioned in the clip, in 1992, times were tough and George H.W. Bush had an image problem. He was seen as an out of touch rich guy who just couldn’t understand what kind of problems the country was facing and he lost the election at least in part because of that. Somebody needs to knock on the door of the quiet room  Mr. Romney likes to work on economic issues in and remind of that.