When you think of Mitt Romney, you probably think of a tall, robotic fellow with no discernible strong beliefs or stances (at least, none that can survive longer than a week at a time). That’s terribly unfair, and you should be ashamed for thinking it. He may have started out as an empty husk devoid of strong personal beliefs, but thanks to a crack team of industry insiders, he now is quite filled with opinions. Coincidentally, they happen to be the opinions of an army of top lobbyists in Washington, and the companies they lobby for. Funny how that works.
[Mitt Romney's] kitchen cabinet includes some of the most prominent Republican lobbyists in Washington, including Charles R. Black Jr., the chairman of Prime Policy Group and a lobbyist for Walmart and AT&T; Wayne L. Berman, who is chairman of Ogilvy Government Relations and represents Pfizer, the drug manufacturer; and Vin Weber, the managing partner for Clark & Weinstock. [...]Other lobbyists serve on one of Mr. Romney’s policy advisory teams, have hosted fund-raisers for his campaign or have joined the many influential Republicans whose endorsements Mr. Romney’s campaign has hailed.
Want to know what Mitt Romney’s true policies are? Well, you should have attended Mitt Romney’s $10,000-and-up policy round table, where industry lobbyists led “discussions” on what his policies towards those industries should be:
Mr. Romney’s campaign held an elaborate “policy round table” fund-raiser at a Washington hotel, featuring panel discussions run by lobbyists and former cabinet officials or members of Congress.James Talent, a former senator who runs the lobbying and public affairs firm Mercury Public Affairs, led a panel on infrastructure, according to an invitation. William Hansen, a former deputy secretary of education who is president of the lobbying firm Chartwell Education Group, led the education panel.
Wow. I can’t imagine why anyone would be cynical about American politics these days, can you?
The entertaining thing about this story is just how many large companies are represented. Among those specifically mentioned (and kudos to the three reporters for linking the lobbyists with actual clients, which is rather important information for readers) are Walmart, AT&T, Pfizer (drugs), Microsoft, Altria (tobacco), General Dynamics, Dominion (power), Barclays (finance), Allegheny (steel) and Peabody Energy (coal). Lobbyists are cutting the checks; lobbyists are bundling other people’s checks; lobbyists are holding the panel discussions about how the candidate can best serve the specific industries they represent; lobbyists make up the inner circle of “policy makers,” advising the candidate as to what his own core positions should be.
As for the candidate himself, he’s almost irrelevant at this point. You might as well nominate a bunny named Mr. Buttons: If you surround it with the exact same lobbyist-advisors, you’ll end up with the exact same policies. Sigh, if only we could teach that bunny to hold a pen—but for now we’ll have to settle for our current crop of Republican candidates, all of whom have near-identical policy prescriptions, all of which favor the exact same subset of people and the exact same handful of industries. Go figure.
I’ve given up on the notion that we can keep lobbyists from capturing our politics. I’ve also given up on the notion that we can prevent interests like the oil sector or our current handful of top financial companies from tailoring the American government specifically to serve their needs. Want more profits? Want less environmental protections? Want to crush some emerging industry that threatens to make yours less profitable? Just buy a few congressman, or a senator, or a president. At a few million here and there, it’s cheaper than advertising, and the results are far more secure.
So I’m in the Bill Maher camp on this one. Lobbyists and industries want to buy our politicians? Fine, I give up, let them. Just pass a law saying the candidate has to wear those corporate logos on their jackets whenever they appear on the campaign trail or when they are in office. The more money is contributed, the bigger the logo has to be. Top presidential candidates will look like military dictators-in-training, with badges and medals and ribbons sticking out from them in every direction, and just from looking at them we’ll be able to tell who they serve, and in what proportions. That would certainly be more educational than any rhetoric coming from the candidates themselves.
By: Hunter, Daily Kos, February 15, 2012
Looking back over the last three years, there’s arguably no better example of a policy Republicans got wrong than the rescue of the American auto industry.
When President Obama launched his ambitious policy in 2009, he was taking a major gamble — not only with the backbone of American manufacturing, but with his presidency and its ability to use the power of government to repair a private industry facing collapse. As First Read noted at the time, “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”
We now know the gamble paid off. Chrysler has posted its first profit in 15 years; GM is building new American facilities; and plants are operating at a capacity unseen in a long while. General Motors went from the brink of total failure to reclaiming its spot as the world’s top automaker, and as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “The auto industry hasn’t just turned the corner. It’s starting to accelerate.”
Had it not been for the Obama administration’s policy, these heartening headlines would have been impossible. And yet, Mitt Romney still isn’t happy.
In a new Detroit News op-ed, the former Massachusetts governor says he’s glad the industry still exists, but proceeds to complain anyway about the way in which Obama rescued GM and Chrysler from an imminent collapse.
Three years ago, in the midst of an economic crisis, a newly elected President Barack Obama stepped in with a bailout for the auto industry. The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American economy are evident in what he did.
Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them…. By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.
It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to face a crisis, get it wrong, then whine about the way in which the other guy got it right.
This is a subject Romney would be better off ignoring. After all, in 2009, he famously urged policymakers to “let Detroit go bankrupt.” Romney was so certain Obama’s policy would fail, he said Americans could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if Obama’s policy moved forward in 2009. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the administration’s plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know all of Romney’s warnings were wrong. For him to double down today on the virtues of letting Detroit go bankrupt is just bizarre.
I’m reminded of this clip, which Democrats gleefully put together last summer.
Of particular interest is the last quote in the clip, in which a Chrysler executive responded to a Romney quote by saying, “Whoever told you that is smoking illegal material. That market had become absolutely dysfunctional in 2008 and 2009. There were attempts made by a variety of people to find strategic alliances with other car makers on a global scale and the government stepped in, as the actor of last resort. It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with.”
In other words, Romney wasn’t just wrong; he was drug-addled wrong.
To be sure, the former governor wasn’t the only Obama critic whose predictions now look foolish, but Romney is the one who still likes to pretend he was right.
Even the complaints themselves are strange. As Marcy Wheeler explained, Romney’s “basically complaining that the bailout preserved the healthcare a bunch of 55+ year old blue collar workers were promised. He’s pissed they got to keep their healthcare. He’s also complaining that banks took a haircut.”
I haven’t talked to the White House about this, but I suspect if 2012 comes down to a debate over who was right about the auto-industry rescue, Obama likes his chances.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 14, 2012
Each time presidential candidate Rick Santorum rears his righteous head, it is to exploit a social issue that is of no import in a national election. But he knows that the way to keep the cameras pointed at him one more day is to manufacture a new bit of hysteria.
Last Thursday, Joan Walsh reported on Santorum as he clamored to punish non-Catholics by limiting their access to contraceptives if their workplace was in the hands of the Catholic Church. She rightly pointed out that he “absolutely mangles” what the founders said about religion. Raising the specter of the atheistic French Revolution and its notorious use of the guillotine, the former Pennsylvania senator planted a seed in the minds of his hearers: A left-driven tyranny was where the anti-Christian Obama administration would be heading next.
The fear-monger tosses out familial metaphors with devilish glee. At once subverting patriarchy within the home and turning the federal government into Big Brother, the sitting president stands in moral opposition to all that is good. And only the moral policeman Rick can stop him.
“They are taking faith and crushing it,” Santorum howls at the political left. “When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights then what’s left is the French Revolution…. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine.”
This is a combination of really bad history and undisciplined demagoguery. What we’d like to focus on is not the fractured logic of the demagogue so much as the perversion of history by the two-term senator. We consider it quite sad that a presidential candidate in 2012 should be resurrecting the same dirty campaign tactic that accompanied the charge that Thomas Jefferson, for five years U.S. minister to France, would, if elected president, shut down churches and burn bibles.
Start with the fact that in his superficial evocation of the 1790s, Santorum was referring not to the French so much as he was unconsciously reviving the propaganda used by New England Federalists against the “atheist” Thomas Jefferson, who championed freedom of conscience and refused to wear his religion on his sleeve. From 1793 on, conservative Yankees predicted that the social chaos of Paris would wash ashore in America. Indeed, conservative academics of our own time view the French Revolution as the first step toward the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union–all of which fits neatly with the crack-brained Tea Party narrative in which President Obama is a sworn socialist and enemy of capitalism.
Mitt Romney is not beyond indulging in the same polemical game, associating Obama with European social programs. Yet Santorum does what the Mormon cannot, by playing the “Catholic card” in his effort to “other” the president. It is an especially bizarre move in historical relief, because the Federalist critics who most loudly warned of the French-tainted Jefferson were New England Calvinists who feared Catholics as much as they feared French anarchy.
Federalists termed the French Revolution a “contagion,” a violent, sickening, uncivilizing process. If Santorum sees the metaphorical blade of the guillotine hanging over the heads of the Catholic bishops, it is well worth noting that eighteenth-century conservatives were so carried away by their own outlandish predictions that their panicky congressional majority passed a series of repressive laws, the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which first targeted French émigrés and then U.S. citizens who needed to be silenced. The Sedition Act authorized the imprisonment of journalists and politicians who criticized the president. The main purpose of the legislation was, as James Madison observed, to shut down free and open political debate–to derail democracy. Cleverly drafted, the Sedition Act allowed the government to punish critics of the president, but not the vice president. Why the omission? Because in 1798, John Adams’s vice president was the unAmerican Thomas Jefferson.
It certainly seems that Rick Santorum reads the First Amendment just as the Federalist Congress of 1798 did. As we all know, though, the First Amendment was intended to uphold religious freedom, protect speech, and ensure liberty of conscience. Madison, who conceived the First Amendment, defended the last of these three principles as a deeply private, individual right shielding citizens from the coercive, invasive force of a church or state government.
It is Santorum, not President Obama, who is waging a war against religion. It is the fear-mongers who endanger religious freedom. Why should the Catholic Church impose its doctrines on employees who are not Catholic? Why should any who are not Catholic be deprived of access to a health insurance benefit solely because they are employed by a Catholic hospital or university? Why should the Church be permitted to impose its doctrines on an individual who not a member? The First Amendment does not grant any church the power to deprive individuals of rights.
Santorum is waging a war not only on religion but on all Americans who do not share his faith. The Catholic Church has every right to impart its doctrines; its members can accept or reject them. The majority of Catholic men and women have rejected the particular doctrine prohibiting the use of contraception. Employees possess the right to insurance and the right to adhere to their own religious beliefs.
As Madison argued in a 1788 letter to Jefferson, religious fanaticism was as serious a danger to religious liberty as excessive state authority. In his words, “rights of conscience” were undermined by “overbearing majorities” who were intent on advancing the interests of a particular “religious establishment.” In plain and simple terms, the founders meant to protect individuals against excessive encroachments by church as well as state.
We might all wish to heed Madison’s further warning: “It is a melancholy reflection that liberty should be equally exposed to danger whether the Government has too much or too little power.” Religious liberty required the protection of state authority, in creating a barrier around the individual and guarding against intrusions from religious institutions.
The fact remains that President Obama is no more a French Revolutionary Jacobin than Jefferson or Madison. It appears, in fact, that the president has a very clear understanding of religious liberty, appreciating the boundaries between church and state just as Madison intended. His promptly conceived compromise solution, respecting religion without restricting rights, fits the balanced, reasonable approach our founders prescribed when they fought, state by state, to eliminate state funding and sanctioning (i.e., disestablishment) of privileged sects.
If the last three years tell us anything, 2012 will not usher in a new Age of Reason. Fanaticism will continue to seize the news cycle. Rick Santorum has learned (perhaps from Donald Trump and birther mania) that the best way to grab the headlines is to ramp up the epithets, bark the loudest, and fantasize a history that never was.
By: Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Salon, February 14, 2012
When it comes to the life choices married women make, Rick Santorum does his best to portray himself as a crusader for tolerance. A passage in his 2005 book It Takes a Family — supposedly co-authored by his wife, although we have our doubts — famously blames “radical feminists” for shaming women who decide to raise their children full-time instead of pursuing a career. “All I’m saying is both decisions should be applauded and affirmed, based on the choice the woman wants to make,” he said in a primary debate last year. “That’s the point I made in the book.”
But Santorum has no problem calling out married women (and married men, and unmarried people of both genders) who make choices in their private sexual lives that Santorum doesn’t personally agree with.
As he told the “Evangelical blog” Caffeinated Thoughts last year:
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it — and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong — but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.
Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.
In a nutshell, Rick Santorum is promising to use the platform of the presidency of the United States to tell people who use contraception that they’re wrong, because they’re not treating sex the way it’s “supposed to be” treated, according to the personal religious beliefs of Rick Santorum. As Time‘s Michael Scherer notes, Santorum is denigrating the sexual morals of about 99 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Guttmacher Institute. As far as politics goes, it’s a rare thing to see a major presidential candidate so out of touch with popular opinion.
Not to mention so wrong in terms of policy. Santorum claims that the use of contraception has a “profound impact on the health of our society,” and he’s right, unintentionally: Contraception prevents STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and in the process, lowers government health-care spending and cuts down on those abortions Santorum is so dedicated to stopping. Because people are going to have sex — hedonistic, non-procreation-y sex — whether Father Santorum approves of it or not. A president who doesn’t accept that has lost touch with reality.
By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, February 15, 2012
One of Mitt Romney’s problems is that he lays it on too thick. He’s not just a conservative, he’s a “severe conservative”. He feels your pain because he too is ”unemployed”. And he understands America’s car industry because he’s a Tigers-cheering motorhead, a true “son of Detroit”.
That last assertion comes in an op-ed Mr Romney wrote for the Detroit News today. And it’s not untrue, per se. The candidate was born in Detroit, though he grew up in Bloomfield Hills, one of America’s wealthiest cities. He probably cheered for the Tigers as a kid, but his position has since evolved. And cars may really be “in my bones”, as he claims, but he advocated letting Detroit go bankrupt in 2008.
The purpose of Mr Romney’s op-ed is to clarify his position on the auto bail-out ahead of Michigan’s primary on February 28th. And the piece rivals Cirque du Soleil in its display of contortions. Mr Romney seems loth to gush about the success of the bail-out, noting only the good news that “Chrysler and General Motors are still in business”. He certainly doesn’t mention that 2011 was the best year for America’s carmakers since the financial crisis, with each of the big three turning a solid profit. But he does imply that this achievement is a result of his own advice. “The course I recommended was eventually followed”, Mr Romney writes.
As with much of Mr Romney’s excessive rhetoric, there is some truth to this statement. Following the bail-outs, the president eventually forced Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, a step Mr Romney thought should occur naturally. And the government oversaw painful restructurings at both companies, which were largely in line with Mr Romney’s broad suggestions. But the course Mr Romney recommended in 2008 began with the government stepping back, and it is unlikely things would’ve turned out so well had this happened.
Free-marketeers that we are, The Economist agreed with Mr Romney at the time. But we later apologised for that position. “Had the government not stepped in, GM might have restructured under normal bankruptcy procedures, without putting public money at risk”, we said. But “given the panic that gripped private purse-strings…it is more likely that GM would have been liquidated, sending a cascade of destruction through the supply chain on which its rivals, too, depended.” Even Ford, which avoided bankruptcy, feared the industry would collapse if GM went down. At the time that seemed like a real possibility. The credit markets were bone-dry, making the privately financed bankruptcy that Mr Romney favoured improbable. He conveniently ignores this bit of history in claiming to have been right all along.
In other areas of his op-ed Mr Romney is more accurate. Unions did win some special favours in the bail-out deals, though they are not as egregious as the candidate claims. For example, a health fund for retired workers was unfairly favoured over secured bondholders at Chrysler. But an issue like that is unlikely to resonate in Detroit. So Mr Romney must find a way to re-write history, lest he fall further behind Rick Santorum in his state of birth. Mr Santorum didn’t support the auto bail-out either, but he evinces a genuine compassion for blue-collar workers. And he didn’t pen an op-ed predicting, “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” That’s a difficult statement to walk back.
By: The Economist, Democracy in America, February 14, 2012