Posts Tagged ‘the page’

Yesterday the Romney campaign delivered its proof-of-concept for a Romney candidacy in the form of a decisive Romney victory in an important and hotly contested state, MI.

So: Romney is not going away, alas.

Worse: Romney has developed a populist message difficult for the other candidates to rebut, rejoin, or even resist. Regard the following rejoinder to the assumptions of the Romney win issued by a McCain Strategist.

Then regard the ridiculous ease with which ordinarily talentless Kevin Madden smacks it down in a gesture entirely without substance.

[...] Steve Schmidt, a top McCain strategist, attributed yesterday’s loss to “Mitt Romney’s pandering up in Michigan” by promising what Schmidt called a “$100-billion bailout of the auto industry…Mitt Romney should explain to the rest of the country how he’s going to pay for it,” writes Howard Kurtz for WaPo’s The Trail in a blog burst titled McCain Team Critiques Romney’s Record

While Romney has proposed a five-year, $20-billion-a-year effort to revitalize the ailing auto industry, the Arizona senator has emphasized worker retraining and research into green technologies. Schmidt would not put a price tag on that but minimized the retraining plan as a consolidation of existing programs.

Speaking to reporters after a rally here today, McCain declined to use the word “pandering” but said of Romney: “By promising that amount of money to the auto industry, at least he ought to be able to say where it’s going to come from.” McCain cited statistics purporting to show that Massachusetts lagged the nation in economic growth during Romney’s four-year term [...]

[...] Schmidt broadened the verbal assault to include what he called Romney’s “rather weak record as governor of Massachusetts,” including sluggish job growth and a $700-million boost in taxes and fees, and said Romney’s record of trimming jobs as a corporate takeover artist would also be fair game [...]

Schmidt: What Romney proposes is too expensive. Where will he find the money? Romney mismanaged the Massachusetts economy and cut jobs as a corporate takeover artist.

This is all true, painfully true. But is it compelling? No, not in the least. Does it speak from the center of a competing vision? No, it doesn’t. Rather: This is the line of argument of a scold or, in Madden’s words, a “naysayer.”

Now, here be Madden’s non-responsive but rhetorically effective rejoinder, reproduced on Mark Halperin’s The Page:

Governor Romney has encountered pessimism and a shoulder-shrug attitude like that of Senator McCain before. He faced it in business, he faced it at the Olympics and he faced it when he took over as governor of a state.

Every time, he fought the pessimists and naysayers and brought reform and success. Senator McCain has neither the ability nor the optimistic vision needed to help transform our nation’s economy and bring greater growth and prosperity to working Americans.

Governor Romney is ready to roll-up his sleeves and go to work, even if Senator McCain is ready to just give up on the future [...]

Romney’s argument? Relationship. The relationship of ground and consequence. The ground is the person, character, and professional biography of Romney, in whom we are to invest our confidence, and for whom we are to invest our support. The consequence—what we get in return—is “reform and success” through the life and labor of Romney. To doubt or disparage would be to nitpick, to naysay; it would be a failure of the imagination—pessimism. (For Sen. Obama, who Romney idolizes, the enemy is cynicism. For Romney it is pessimism.)

Do you remember Pres. Clinton’s refrain about how he was always “working hard for the American people?” Do you remember how Pres. Clinton would personalize policy proposals and initiatives by talking about how hard he had worked for them? Or how Pres. Clinton would excuse himself for failed promises on grounds of hard work?—he once famously said that he had never worked harder than he had to deliver the middle class tax cut that he had promised in 1992, he just couldn’t make it work etc.

This is not a conservative argument. This is the antithesis of a conservative argument. This argument assumes a great faith in the efficacy of political agency—particularly, Romney as political agent.

Romney’s rejoinder to his critics and dissenters now becomes: You’re trying to destroy me personally, and I’m trying to save the country. Which of us is right? 

Conclusion: What Romney has done is to personalize policy. Like Gore in 1999, like Edwards more recently, Romney promises to resist “powerful forces”—e.g. a “broken Washington“—on behalf of “working Americans.” Given the sudden downturn in the US economy and the subprime mortgage crisis, this could be a powerful message.

Further conclusion: the GOP is doomed.

More on these sad themes:

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

First, let us pass in review:

(1) As Romney-apologists tell the story, Romney wanted to run as a competent technocrat, an outsider with the business experience and native genius necessary to “fix Washington.” Only Romney could never stay on message. So what the campaign emitted was unintelligible noise.

In the opinion of observers Romney had tried early on to position himself as a social conservative, only this ridiculously revisionist line never withstood any encounter with the facts of Romney’s record. Romney responded by tacking ever further to the right.

Romney outflanks himself yet again!–poll indicates Romney’s pull to the right alienates independents, centrists, and moderates

(2) After Iowa returned its decision for Gov. Mike Huckabee, Romney suddenly transformed into the “change” candidate.

(3) After New Hampshire returned its decision for Sen. John McCain, Romney transforms himself yet again. Romney abandons his social and economic conservative line altogether. Suddenly Romney wants to nationalize an ailing industry, only in the post-industrial, post-progressive era this assumes the form of a Washington-Detroit “partnership” combined with massive subsidies.

This is Romney himself from a Transcript of Romney’s Speech to the Detroit Economic Club

[...] “First of all, we have to be honest about the problems we have and tackle them head on. If I’m President of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I’m in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership. It will be a plan that works for Michigan and that works for the American taxpayer.

“And as part of this, we will directly address and rectify the enormous product cost and capital cost disadvantages that currently burden the domestic automakers. From legacy costs, to health care costs, to increased CAFE standard costs, to the cost of embedded taxes, Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer. The plan is going to have to include increases in funding for automotive related research as well as new tax benefits including making the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.

“I am not open to a bail out, but I am open to a work out. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner [...]

In an article titled Romney on the Ropes, Byron York of the National Review comments:

[...] [Romney's] plan is to make the United States government a virtual partner of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. “If I’m president of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I’m in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership,” Romney tells the Economic Club. “It will be a plan that works for Michigan and that works for the American taxpayer.”

The plan would involve easier-to-reach mileage standards, increased funding and extended tax breaks for research and development, worker health care reforms, and more. “Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer,” Romney says. “I am not open to a bail out, but I am open to a work out. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner.”

Romney’s proposals might not be music to the ears of free-market conservatives who believe Detroit made its own problems and needs to fix itself. But it’s what a lot of people in Michigan want to hear [...]

Might not be music to our ears? Here be the problem, and it has little to do with Romney’s tone deafness: Not only does Romney’s plan to nationalize the US automobile industry reflect yet another complete ideological reversal for the hapless candidate—Not only is Romney’s proposal impracticable and nearly impossible on its face, just the worst possible public policy imaginable—Not only will Romney’s proposal issue into in a furious race to the bottom as Romney himself and the other candidates are forced to out-bid each other promising to bail-out, subsidize, or protect from competition other ailing industries and entire economic sectors—but Romney’s plan for MI is also based on a risibly inaccurate and historically flawed assessment of an already globalized and post-industrial US automobile “industry”. Micheline Maynard of NYT’s The Caucus outlines the case against Romney’s proposals in an article titled Romney Address a Car Industry That Has Changed:

[...] Mr. Romney’s speech to the Economic Club of Detroit on Monday seemed more rooted in a time when Detroit companies dominated the automotive scene, rather than now, when Toyota is No. 2 behind General Motors.

For example, Mr. Romney vowed that if elected, “in my first 100 days, I will roll up my sleeves, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders to develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership.”

But America’s auto industry now is no longer exclusively American. It includes Toyota, Honda, Nissan, as well as the leaders of European and Asian automakers. All have built factories in the United States over the past 25 years, particularly in states across the South. Collectively, foreign companies held 48.9 percent of American sales last year, when Detroit’s market share slipped to 51.1 percent, its lowest ever.

Mr. Romney also referred to a series of areas where the industry ought to engage with Washington, ranging from its pension and health care expenses, known as legacy costs, to mileage standards, known as corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE.

“From legacy costs, to health care costs, to increased CAFE standards, to embedded taxes, Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer,” Mr. Romney said.

However, G.M., Ford Motor and Chrysler reached contracts with the United Automobile Workers union last fall that will shift their burden for retiree health care costs, the major portion of legacy costs, to an independent trust that will be administered by the U.A.W. Moreover, the companies and the union pledged to spend money creating a new think tank that will lobby for federal health care reform.

Speaking of fuel economy, Mr. Romey said, “Of course fleet mileage needs to rise, but discontinuous CAFE leaps, uncoordinated with the domestic manufacturers, and absent consideration of competitiveness, kills jobs and imperils an industry,”

Mr. Romney added: “Washington-dictated CAFE is not the right answer.”

But the auto companies just finished taking part in a spirited Congressional debate over CAFE during 2007. And while they fought increases in fuel economy standards early on, the automakers wound up supporting the new law that requires them to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Mr. Romney also had a vintage perspective on his father’s former company, American Motors.

“I used to ask my dad, ‘How in the world can you compete as head of America Motors when you’ve got such huge competitors, GM, Ford, Chrysler, the Big Three — how do you possibly think you can succeed?’” Mr. Romney said. “And he’d say in a way that I have not forgotten: ‘Mitt, there’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success. There’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.’”

Yet it was A.M.C. that was vulnerable in its final years. It first turned to Renault of France for a rescue, selling a 46 percent stake to the French auto company in 1980, earning it the nickname, “Franco-American Motors.” In 1987, Chrysler purchased A.M.C. from Renault, and the company vanished from the automotive scene [...]

Back to Byron York:

[...] From the beginning of his campaign, Romney has argued that he is the only candidate who can unite the three main elements of the Republican party: economic conservatives, national-security conservatives, and social conservatives. But Romney is really mostly an economic conservative; his foreign-policy credentials aren’t much, and his social conservatism — highlighted by the famed flip-flop over abortion — has earned him as many critics as fans. That hurt him in Iowa and New Hampshire, but on the last day of the campaign in Michigan, it’s economy, economy, economy, and that is where Romney is strongest [...]

Remarks:

(1) Contra York, the National Review itself argues that Romney “is the only candidate who can unite the three main elements of the Republican party: economic conservatives, national-security conservatives, and social conservatives.” See:

So here you have York, a writer for the National Review, arguing that Romney really isn’t a conservative at all—correction: York argues that Romney is really only an “economic conservative,” even though Romney’s policies, as York admits with his “music” comment, are anything but conservative. What does this say about the goof-balls at the National Review!?

(2) Romney’s proposal for the US automobile industry is not economic in content or in character—this is not an economic proposal.

It is a political proposal.

It assumes in advance that the performance or non-performance of a US industry is a political question. It assumes in advance the priority of political agency over private activity. And it arrives at the conclusion that the US taxpayer should subsidize the wrongheaded and shortsighted decisions of US automobile executives, and that Washington should supervise—as a partner—and assume the costs of, an entire economic sector.

So why should Romney’s proposal not apply also to e.g. US agriculture, or the technology sector? This is the logical contradiction of Romney’s proposal: it admits of no conceptual limit or limit in principle. It is not enough to argue that the automotive industry is the “canary in the coal mine” for the US economy and therefore deserves special attention—every sector of the economy, it can be argued, is vitally important—that’s part of what it means to be an economy—every sector is interrelated, interdependent.

The empirical contradiction of Romney’s plan is this: it cannot be done. History has already returned its verdict on heavy industry as an economic driver. The cash value of manufactured goods has declined for the past 25 years. Industrial capacity is more generally distributed in the world. Information processing technology and technique drives up productivity so more can be made with less labor, and this drives down prices—etc., etc.—no longer can heavy industry be the material basis of the US middle class. It is simply impossible at this historical stage.

Romney’s plan is not merely government activism, it is government atavism. It is an attempt to reverse history.

Our conclusion: Romney is not a conservative. Not in any sense of the term. Also: Romney has successfully bought a primary contest by issuing a check he cannot possibly cash.

Michigan belongs to Romney now. He can have it.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

P.S. Credit goes to eyeon08.com for the Byron York article.

“Romney has been forced into a two-front war, trailing Mike Huckabee in Iowa and holding onto a lead against a resurgent McCain in New Hampshire,” writes Eric Kleefield in a TPMelectioncentral.com post titled Romney Rolls Out Anti-McCain Ad in New Hampshire

But as it turns out, his lines of attack against each are the same, faulting them on taxes and immigration in both states … etc.

Here is the problem for the bitter, angry Romney. His rivals—Gov. Huckabee and Sen. McCain—have concerted their criticisms of Romney, the man and his message, by playing up each other even as they play upon the same themes.

Yet Romney’s response is to argue against both of his rivals on the same grounds, immigration and taxes.

In the case of Gov. Huckabee Romney’s critique raises his rival to the level of a peer when Romney has been trying to argue that Gov. Huckabee’s rise is artifact of misplaced religious zeal.

In the case of Sen. McCain Romney’s line only underscores the independence and integrity of discretion of a man already known for these virtues, even as Romney foregrounds his own slavish hewing to party orthodoxy in a state that appreciates coherent and individuated lines of reason.

Also:

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

”’It is particularly offensive that a Mike Huckabee advocacy group would resort to a shadow effort using large sums of unregulated soft money to attack candidates by name with these reprehensible calls,’ Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades said,” as reported by Mark Halperin in a The Page post titled Romney Camp on Huckabee Advocacy Group

”Governor Huckabee cannot just stand by and feign outrage as these coordinated attacks are made in his name and for his benefit.”

Well, Matt, yes he can.

Particularly offensive?

Does anyone remember how in ’04 Sen. Kerry dispatched former Sen. Max Cleland to Texas to crawl and scrape the dust at Pres. Bush’s feet, so that the President, shamed by the grim spectacle, might call upon the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth to relent in their truth-telling? We only barely remember the event ourselves. Question: Did Sen. Kerry’s carping and caviling at Pres. Bush help Sen. Kerry appear courageous, decisive, or powerful? Per contra, Sen. Kerry’s whining, Sen. Kerry’s language of blame, and, especially, Sen. Kerry casting himself as a petitioner to Pres. Bush—all of these things combined made Sen. Kerry appear limp and helpless.

Note to Team Romney: pick yourselves up off the ground, dry your collective eyes, blow your collective noses, fire Matt Rhoades, and carry on about your business like adults.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

“Mitt Romney will deliver a speech entitled ‘Faith in America,’ addressing his Mormon religion, on Thursday at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Tex,” writes Michael Luo for the NYT blog, The Caucus, in a post titled Romney to Address His Mormonism

His campaign is describing the address as an opportunity for Mr. Romney to “share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.”

Mr. Romney personally made the decision to give the speech last week, feeling it was the right moment to do so, his advisers said. After he decided he would make it, the campaign consulted with former President Bush’s library, which invited him to deliver it there … etc.

“The venue is not a surprise”—writes Mark Halperin in a The Page post titled More on Romney Religion Speech“since Romney has given a previous major address (on defense policy) at the Bush library, and the two families are very close. And Texas, of course, was also the venue for John F. Kennedy’s famous speech on religion in 1960 — the one to which this event will be endlessly compared” … etc.

Only days earlier Romney had said this:

“I have some folks who think I should do it soon, some say later, some say never, some say right away,” Romney said. “I’ll make the decision. But there’s no particular urgency because I’m making progress in the states where I’m campaigning,” or so says his imperious and aloof excellency, Willard Milton Romney himself as reported by Glen Johnson in an AP release titled Romney’s advisors’ say on speech.

Eye of eyeon08.com issues this rejoinder:

Well. There’s urgency now. Romney is now clearly in 2nd in Iowa. There is now clear evidence that Romney’s religion is hurting him in Iowa, something that we predicted early on based on the strange makeup of the caucus electorate … etc.

Just as an exercise, let us review Romney’s reasons for not delivering “the speech,” as argued by Romney himself, not 10 days ago, in a Human Events interview mis-titled Romney’s 4 Wedge Issues:

... Tom Winter (TW): … last week [Romney] told a columnist Larry Kudlow that the recent telephone push-polling in Iowa that negatively referred to your Mormon religion was ‘un-American.’ For months, we’ve heard about a speech that’s already written, a Kennedy-like speech, about your religious beliefs, that you’re just waiting for the right time to deliver. In view of this, and Christopher Hitchens remarks today that you’re religion is fair game in this campaign, do you think it’s now time to deliver this speech?

ROMNEY: I don’t have anything new on this at this stage. There is no speech written. I get lots of suggestions. I have several people –

TW: There is no speech written?

ROMNEY: There is no speech written. Not by me. And the speech that will be given is a speech I will write. And I do have people who propose speeches to me. Sometimes people give me ideas, “Why don’t you say this? Why don’t you say that?” It’s a decision I will make. I have some of my colleagues who think it’s a terrific idea. I have others who think it’s a terrible idea. And a lot of people in between. I listen to people’s perceptions, and I will weigh that in my own analysis and my own decision-making. But I have not made a decision at this point about whether and when to give such a speech.

This was Romney’s line up until a few days ago. As we described it elsewhere:

… Romney ha[d] concluded [at the time] hat to allow the issue to remain suspended in the twilight of an eternal filibuster—to feign a divided mind or a divided camp—is more useful to his candidacy than to decide the issue one way or the other …

Back to Human Events:

TW: You don’t think it could become too late, it you let this boil over and become an issue? I mean the idea of the speech was, as Kennedy did, you would put an end to this kind of discussion.

ROMNEY: You know, in the case of Senator Kennedy — and later President Kennedy — as you point out, he made the speech, I think it was in September prior to the November election. And so, if I were to do so now, I would be nine or ten months before he did.

Romney has seriously misread the historical moment. Sen. Kennedy did not face a fully realized and conscious-of-itself Evangelical movement in the Democratic primaries running up to 1960. The Evangelical movement did not exist in 1960. The Evangelical movement may trace its pedigree to the Great Awakening or to the Apostles and martyrs of the primitive church, or to the talmid of Yochanan, the Rabbi Yeshua himself, but it emerges as a political force in the US only in the mid-to-late 70s, yet another realization—and splintering off—of baby-boomer moral-spiritual consciousness. Romney’s own father did not face a fully realized Evangelical movement—Gov. George Romney (may his name be for a blessing) never confronted the same questions about his Mormon confession.

Romney, however, does face a fully realized Evangelical movement. On this basis the NRO’s Yuval Levin argues that Romney must deliver not the Kennedy speech, but its opposite:

… “Kennedy’s speech was very much a general election move (it was delivered in September, less than two months before the election), and its purpose was roughly the opposite of that which Romney is seeking. Kennedy’s speech was a case for a strict separation of church and state — he promised essentially to keep his religion out of his politics entirely. Romney seems to have a more complicated challenge: he needs to persuade people who believe a man’s religious convictions do and should make a difference in the sort of leadership he offers that his convictions are like their convictions” … etc.

Back to Human events:

[Romney:] It’s just something which, you know, I have to take a look at. I do get the chance, of course, to take a look at a number of people’s articles about this. There’s a whole book written about it. By Hugh Hewitt, saying, “Don’t dare give such a speech. You can’t possibly satisfy the critics.” And of course no one could compare with the landmark address that was given by Senator Kennedy, so, it’s not something that I’m ready to announce any change on …

Yet Romney has announced a change, a change in the form of a complete reversal, and within only 10 days of it being “not something that [Romney is] ready to announce any change on.” Romney himself has set himself up such that the timing of his speech can only be read as a desperate hedge against collapsing poll numbers.

For more on this theme:

how Romney botched the Mormon-Kennedy-speech issue by setting up impossible expectations, by consistently failing to identify opportunity and seize the initiative, and by allowing others to frame the debate

yours &c.
dr. g.d.





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