Mitt Romney isn’t a bad guy because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Mitt Romney isn’t a bad candidate for president because he is a multimillionaire with three large homes. We the people have enjoyed the results of successful presidents from many points in the American spectrum; rich, poor, and middle of the road. The problem for Mitt Romney the candidate, is that he does represent the kind of business that has nearly destroyed our way of life, and did destroy the lives of millions of our fellows.
Mitt Romney is a corporate raider; Mitt Romney is a Wall Street vulture. Mitt Romney is a believer in the notion that wealth harvested from fancy takeovers is as pure as that earned by the sweat of the working class. The former Governor of Massachusetts and savior of the Salt Lake Olympics was a founder of Bain Capital, a firm that specialized in building wealth for its partners by stripping away the value from other firms. To be sure, Romney didn’t invent the corporate raider, and he didn’t violate any laws that we have heard. Romney was true to all the values he was raised with, and it is that point that is concerning, because his are the values that have defined our nation since the early 80′s. America, during the last thirty years, has begun to prize a very different definition of success than that acknowledged during the bulk of our national golden age. Wealth has become synonymous with achievement, and great wealth at that. And the type of wealth it takes to succeed in Mitt Romney’s America is only available to those individuals who can be partners at firms like Bain.
I have always harbored a vague suspicion about economic populism. Any idea that has the capacity to unite the Tea Party and union activists is more than a little unsettling. But populism is, well, popular. The notions that drive the ideology have a general appeal that, like much of today’s politics, come from the general direction of the gut rather than the brain. What makes the idea so especially popular, however, is that today’s media is unable to see through the nonsense and report the truth.
If it sounds like I am raising an alarm on populism, it is because I am. The guiding principles of populism, on their own, pose a real danger to the economy of the United States. Taken together, the guiding principles of populism could bring our economy down. Is it really that bad? Is populism really that dangerous? Yes. Populism is about vanity, simplicity, and the pride of the working class perverted for power. Happily, the philosophy is easily set aside, and is not linked to either the Republicans or the Democrats.
The other day I was browsing the headlines on my homepage when my attention was caught by a stunning pronouncement; “Ronald Reagan Restored Faith in America“. The singular fact of an opinion piece given a banner headline is, regardless of the ideological leanings, a major point in the decline of American democracy. But beyond the media commentary, the piece intrigued me. The writer of the column, Ed Rollins, is one of the few political operators still in the game who worked for our 40th President. And while I have no major issues with someone writing from a position of love and loyalty, the tenor of the column, and the tone of today’s political debate, raise some interesting questions.
The notions of American pride, faith in the nation, and American exceptionalism are common themes in today’s often vapid political conversation. Why, after all, talk about substantive policy points when you can hammer away with sexy and easy to digest soundbites? But this issue has some compelling and relevant points worth considering that depart from the quantitative discussions I normally embrace. What does it mean, for example, to believe in American exceptionalism? What does it say about a nation, or a subset within the citizenry of a nation, that “faith” needed to be restored? How far from the reality of President Ronald Reagan does the mythology of Saint Ronnie the Gipper reside?
We Americans like simple, easy to distort constructs in our politics. “Tax and spend”, “fiscal responsibility”, “corporate excess”, and “union corruption” are all easy to sell ideas. When I write articles here or at The Pigeon Post, it goes without saying that provocative and opinionated articles are more widely read than carefully constructed pieces on economic policy. Will a politician cut my taxes or advance a program that I support, becomes the simple question that is asked and answered by campaign ads. As we are at the beginning of a long climb out of our economic downturn, this election is beginning to pivot on household money which, for most of us, means hourly wages.
Would the economy be better if there were less limitations on top producers (real or perceived) to earning money? Would the economy be better if a larger percentage of households had the opportunity (real or perceived) to earn more money? Would the economy be better if there were stronger safety nets in place? All of these questions are asked with regularity, and to an extent, the answers can define a person as liberal or conservative. But this cycle, beginning last November with questions about worker compensation at General Motors, has become more focused on how much fault to assign to workers that are paid a decent wage. We have begun to attack the success of regular working people.
Blaming the media for the problems in our nation can be a tiresome habit. Politicians and sports figures learn the trick when they enter public life, and cling to the tactic to the bitter end. But the media does have a negative effect on the world that is particularly evident when they restate talking points or opinion as fact. A recent article from MSNBC contains good examples of bad journalism on the economy, proving that all misinformation is not the fault of Fox News.
Taken as a whole, the article written by producer John Schoen is not terrible, but it does perpetuate (without supporting evidence) purely political themes on the economic issues of today. I will provide a brief deconstruction of those themes in this post, but I encourage respondents to debate my conclusions in the comment section. Economics is a social science; facts and experimentation are foundational, but supposition and opinion form a far larger component than one would find in other disciplines.
For the next several weeks, political “journalism” will be filled with reports on President Obama’s first year performance. Principal in many of these treatments will be the poll numbers on his administration’s handling of various topics. Polls are especially poor methods to track job performance (imagine the “general public” evaluating your performance at work in a poll), and in this climate, they are worse than ever at capturing the facts. For this reason, I will ignore polling for both this post and that one that will come next (containing my grade for the Republican opposition).
The criteria for evaluation include five categories:
- Constitutional alignment
- Alignment with campaign promises
- Structural improvements versus cosmetic change
- Ethical foundation
- Execution of plan