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Economic Inequality: Pushing Worthwhile Questions Into “Quiet Rooms”

On NBC this morning, Matt Lauer asked Mitt Romney whether Americans with “questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country” are necessarily motivated by, in the Republican’s word, “envy.” The host asked, “Is it about jealousy, or fairness?”

Romney was unmoved. “You know, I think it’s about envy,” he said. “I think it’s about class warfare.”

That’s rather remarkable, in and of itself. Plenty of Americans just want to have a conversation about rising income inequality, poverty, an unjust tax system, and wealth that’s increasingly concentrated at the top. For the likely Republican presidential nominee, those questions aren’t just wrong, they’re the result of “envy.”

And then it got worse. Greg Sargent has the video of the exchange:

LAUER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally.

I see. So, Americans are allowed to ask questions about inequality, so long as we’re not too loud about it. Let’s just stick to quiet rooms — perhaps Romney can loan us one from one of his mansions — where we can be told to stop being envious.

Greg added, “Romney was twice given a chance to nod in the direction of saying that concerns about these problems have at least some legitimacy to them, that they are about something more than mere envy or class warfare, and that they are deserving of a public debate. And this is the answer he gave.”

We’re getting a closer look at Romney’s ideology, and at this point, it’s looking rather twisted.
Remember, just last week, he argued that families who slip into poverty are, in his mind, “still middle class.” This is also the guy who takes a rather callous approach to firing people.

Romney is doing very well with wealthy voters. Why anyone else might vote for him remains to be seen.


By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington MOnthly Political Animal, January 11, 2012

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle Class | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fighting Words”: Why Mitt Romney Will Regret His Tough Talk On Iran

Every presidential election season, it seems, is marked by flights of rhetorical fancy on foreign policy. There was John F. Kennedy’s mythical “missile gap“; Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Blame America Firsters charge against Democrats; Bill Clinton’s evocative (and quickly backtracked from) “butchers of Beijing” line; and then my personal favorite — George H.W. Bush saying his dog Millie “knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos” (the two bozos in question being Bill Clinton and Al Gore).

This year, however, with the notable exception of anti-interventionist Ron Paul, Republicans are pulling out all the stops on the one foreign policy/national security issue that seems to unite them like no other: Iran and its nuclear program. Consider for a moment the spate of off-the-wall statements each of the GOP aspirants has made about Iran this campaign season.

According to Mitt Romney, “The greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear Iran.” There is, he claims, “no price that is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon,” and he has pledged that if he is president, Iran will “not have a nuclear weapon.”

Fighting words indeed. But they seem downright sober when compared to Rick Santorum — who has not only advocated air strikes to eliminate Tehran’s nuclear aspirations, but has also said Iran is “ruled by the equivalent of al Qaeda on top of this country”; “the principle virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not freedom, opportunity — it’s martyrdom”; and that oldie-but-goodie: “they hate us because of who we are and what we believe in.”

Yet, when it comes to sky-is-falling rhetoric, Santorum takes a back seat to Newt Gingrich, who in a GOP debate this fall hinted the United States might not “survive” an Iranian nuke and in 2006 actually compared the Iranian leadership to Nazis. “This is 1935 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as close to Adolf Hitler as we’ve seen,” Gingrich told Human Events magazine. He said at the time that the top priority of the United States should be “overthrowing the government of Iran” with force, if necessary. It’s an argument he has doubled down on this year with calls for killing Iranian scientists and “breaking up their systems” — actions that would be veritable acts of war. He has said bombing Iran is a “fantasy” and the only real way to prevent an Iranian nuke is to depose the regime via conventional war, if necessary.

The latter view was even endorsed by Jon Huntsman, who, when asked if he would consider boots on the ground to stop Iran from getting a bomb, said he wouldn’t be able to “live with the implications of not doing it.” According to Huntsman, all “options [are] on the table.”

It should be noted that such proclamations are, well, a bit divorced from reality. Iran is at best a second-rate power, with an outdated and not terribly advanced conventional military force that is barely able to project power outside its borders. This week, Iranian fisherman even needed the U.S. Navy to rescue them from the clutches of Somali pirates. As Fareed Zakaria noted earlier this month, sanctions have pushed Iran’s economy “into a nose-dive.” Its currency has plunged in value, housing prices are up by 20 percent, the cost of food staples has jumped 40 percent, and the country’s “political system is fractured and fragmenting.” And if 2009’s Green Movement is any indication, there is widespread — if underground — political dissent in the country.

Regionally, Iran has rarely if ever been more isolated. Its one ally, Syria, has its hands full dealing with a domestic uprising, the Gulf states have joined together under a U.S. security umbrella, the Saudis are buying billions in new weaponry from Washington, and the European Union is inching ever closer to a ban on Iranian oil imports — a move that could have a devastating impact on the already battered Iranian economy. Compounding all that is the fact that Iranian scientists are continuing to get killed in the streets of Tehran, and the country’s missile-development program may have just blown itself up.

So why, then, are Republican candidates treating Iran like it’s the modern embodiment of Nazi Germany, al Qaeda, and the Soviet Union, all wrapped up in a mischievous and explosive ball?

The long answer is Americans don’t like Iran, they are afraid of nuclear weapons and images of mushroom clouds, and Muslims with weapons of mass destruction are scary. Frankly, GOP primary voters care about threats to Israel — and sanctions and diplomacy are less impressive than the promise that American airplanes will soon be dropping bombs on reinforced bunkers.

But the short answer is this is pretty much all the GOP has. Want to claim that Obama has been soft on terror? That whole killing Osama bin Laden thing makes that a bit tough. Same goes for all the al Qaeda lieutenants who have been killed in drone strikes. What about pulling out of Iraq? Good luck finding many Americans who disagree with that decision. How about Afghanistan and Obama’s call to begin pulling out troops in 2014? First, it’s hard to argue that Obama didn’t give war a chance in the Hindu Kush; second, Afghanistan is a less and less popular war every day. How about the claim that Obama has thrown Israel under the bus vis-à-vis the Palestinians? That’s not going to make all that much of a difference. It turns out the two groups of voters most concerned about Israel (American Jewsand evangelical Christians) likely already have a pretty clear sense whom they’ll be voting for in November.

On the matter of reducing the defense budget — a dicey proposition in an election year — by getting Republicans to agree to military spending cuts as part of the debt limit deal, Obama largely neutralized GOP attacks on the issue. And it’s not as if many Americans desperately wantto see military spending significantly increased in an age of political austerity.

In the end, since there is no good near-term solution for stopping Iran from getting a bomb –and since Iran continues to engage in provocative behavior like threatening for the umpteenth time to close the Straits of Hormuz — it is the one issue that Republicans can try to pin on the Democratic president, claiming he is weak on national security.

In the end, however, such accusations are unlikely to have much staying power. As Scott Clement points out, even Republicans prefer diplomacy over the use of military force. In fact, compare the Obama approach to Iran (diplomacy, a regional security architecture, likely covert action, and crippling economic sanctions) with the Republican approach (diplomacy, a regional security architecture, likely covert action, and crippling economic sanctions). There really isn’t much of a difference, except for the threatened use of force and all the doomsday talk. But it’s there that the GOP rhetoric could have severe consequences.

As Republicans rattle their sabers this winter, they risk locking themselves into a dangerous position on Iran, should one actually win in November. Just ask Obama how pledging to devote more resources to the fight in Afghanistan in 2008 played out for his presidency.

With Romney et al. declaring that Iran will not get a nuke while they are president and with pledges of support for unilateral action on the part of Israel — including the use of military force — to stop Tehran from getting a bomb, Republicans may find themselves stuck with a dangerous policy on Iran that smacks of brinksmanship. Moreover, all the tough talk on Iran will also limit Obama’s ability to open negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program if the opportunity presents itself. Considering the increasingly desperate economic and political situation there, this might not necessarily be so far-fetched.

In the midst of a feisty presidential campaign, the Republicans’ muscular rhetoric might seem a surefire way to create a political opening. But the ramifications of these existential threats have the potential to live on far past Election Day.


By: Michael Cohen, Foreign Policy, January 6, 2012

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why, And How, Mitt Romney Quit In ’06

My colleagues Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty have taken note of ex-Sen. Rick Santorum’s big-time loss in his 2006 bid for re-election — and rightly so, given just how badly Sen. Bob Casey beat Santorum across virtually all demographic groups and geographic areas.

But Mitt Romney’s re-election bid — or lack thereof — deserves its own scrutiny. Romney said Sunday morning he didn’t seek another term as governor of Massachusetts in 2006 because it wouldn’t have been consistent with the reason he ran in the first place.

“I went to Massachusetts to make it different. I didn’t go there to begin a political career, running time and time again. I made a difference. I put in place the things I wanted to do. I listed out the accomplishments we wanted to pursue in our administration. There were 100 things we wanted to do. Those things I pursued aggressively. Some we won. Some we didn’t,” Romney said. “Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to help get the state in best shape as I possibly could. Left the world of politics, went back into business.”

But there are plenty of signs Romney was contemplating another term before he announced he’d skip the race in December 2005.

Romney’s advisors were putting together plans for a potential re-election bid, the Boston Globe reported in November 2005. His campaign ran several radio ads touting his legislative success in late May, he ran a newspaper insert in the Globe in July, and his campaign polled the race in March, a poll that showed him trailing Reilly by a statistically insignificant margin. He even traded barbs with Attorney General Tom Reilly (D) over cost recovery for the Big Dig and welcomed former Deputy U.S. Attorney Deval Patrick — who would eventually beat Reilly and win the governorship — into the race.

At the same time, his advisors were denying his interest in a 2008 White House bid, apparently to keep his options open at home. Romney’s former chief of staff, Spencer Zwick — now the campaign’s finance director — told the Globe in October that his spending “doesn’t indicate he’s running for another office besides governor.”

Romney hinted a few times that he hadn’t ruled out another bid. “We’ll both be on the same ballot,” he said of then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was up for re-election himself in 2006. Most press accounts in early 2005 characterize Romney as intending to run for a second term, though they note his national ambitions.

Romney delayed a decision on whether he’d seek re-election until two things happened: First, he won election as head of the Republican Governors Association, a platform from which he could travel the country, introduce himself to big donors and collect favors he could later cash in. And second, he signed health care legislation into law — legislation his rivals this year once believed would derail his entire bid.

(A side note: Romney spent most of Fall 2005 urging the legislature to pass a comprehensive reform measure. Romney ended up signing the bill in April 2006, after vetoing several provisions and after he’d said he wouldn’t run for another term)

Then again, it would have been hard for Romney to mount a White House bid having just lost re-election, and Romney’s decision could have become much clearer given the public polls he was seeing. A State House News poll, conducted by KRC/Communications Research just a month before Romney announced publicly he wouldn’t seek a second term, showed him losing to Reilly (D) by 16 points. Just 42 percent of Bay Staters said Romney was doing an excellent or good job, while 53 percent said his performance was poor or below average (Hotline subscribers can see the full poll here, from our archives). Another poll, conducted by UMass in September 2005, showed Romney trailing Reilly by 15 points.

Those polls aren’t proof that Romney was willing to give up on the governorship. But Romney’s intentions to skip a re-election fight were pretty clear from the beginning. A review of Hotline archives shows the Massachusetts press corps taking then-Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey seriously as a candidate, and political insiders expressed surprise when businessman Charles Baker took himself out of the running in late August — three and a half months before Romney ruled out another bid.

Romney, with the help of former consultant Mike Murphy, began seriously exploring a presidential bid early in 2005 (In an ironic twist, Healey brought on Stuart Stevens — Romney’s lead strategist this year — to help her eventually unsuccessful bid to succeed her boss). He went so far as to promise Healey to endorse her if he decided not to seek another term, as early as June 2005.

Despite his insistence that he’d accomplished what he set out to do, Romney’s team, and the governor himself, left the door wide open to a re-election bid in 2006. It was only after he set himself up to build a national foundation — and after polls suggested he would end up as Santorum eventually did — that Romney made public his decision to take a pass.


By: Reid Wilson, The National Journal, January 10, 2012

January 11, 2012 Posted by | GOP, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meritocracy” Fantacy: America’s Unlevel Field

Last month President Obama gave a speech invoking the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt on behalf of progressive ideals — and Republicans were not happy. Mitt Romney, in particular, insisted that where Roosevelt believed that “government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities,” Mr. Obama believes that “government should create equal outcomes,” that we should have a society where “everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk.”

As many people were quick to point out, this portrait of the president as radical redistributionist was pure fiction. What hasn’t been as widely noted, however, is that Mr. Romney’s picture of himself as a believer in a level playing field is just as fictional. Where is the evidence that he or his party cares at all about equality of opportunity?

Let’s talk for a minute about the actual state of the playing field.

Americans are much more likely than citizens of other nations to believe that they live in a meritocracy. But this self-image is a fantasy: as a report in The Times last week pointed out, America actually stands out as the advanced country in which it matters most who your parents were, the country in which those born on one of society’s lower rungs have the least chance of climbing to the top or even to the middle.

And if you ask why America is more class-bound in practice than the rest of the Western world, a large part of the reason is that our government falls down on the job of creating equal opportunity.

The failure starts early: in America, the holes in the social safety net mean that both low-income mothers and their children are all too likely to suffer from poor nutrition and receive inadequate health care. It continues once children reach school age, where they encounter a system in which the affluent send their kids to good, well-financed public schools or, if they choose, to private schools, while less-advantaged children get a far worse education.

Once they reach college age, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to go to college — and vastly less likely to go to a top-tier school — than those luckier in their parentage. At the most selective, “Tier 1” schools, 74 percent of the entering class comes from the quarter of households that have the highest “socioeconomic status”; only 3 percent comes from the bottom quarter.

And if children from our society’s lower rungs do manage to make it into a good college, the lack of financial support makes them far more likely to drop out than the children of the affluent, even if they have as much or more native ability. One long-term study by the Department of Education found that students with high test scores but low-income parents were less likely to complete college than students with low scores but affluent parents — loosely speaking, that smart poor kids are less likely than dumb rich kids to get a degree.

It’s no wonder, then, that Horatio Alger stories, tales of poor kids who make good, are much less common in reality than they are in legend — and much less common in America than they are in Canada or Europe. Which brings me back to those, like Mr. Romney, who claim to believe in equality of opportunity. Where is the evidence for that claim?

Think about it: someone who really wanted equal opportunity would be very concerned about the inequality of our current system. He would support more nutritional aid for low-income mothers-to-be and young children. He would try to improve the quality of public schools. He would support aid to low-income college students. And he would support what every other advanced country has, a universal health care system, so that nobody need worry about untreated illness or crushing medical bills.

If Mr. Romney has come out for any of these things, I’ve missed it. And the Congressional wing of his party seems determined to make upward mobility even harder. For example, Republicans have tried to slash funds for the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps provide adequate nutrition to low-income mothers and their children; they have demanded cuts in Pell grants, which are designed to help lower-income students afford college.

And they have, of course, pledged to repeal a health reform that, for all its imperfections, would finally give Americans the guaranteed care that everyone else in the advanced world takes for granted.

So where is the evidence that Mr. Romney or his party actually believes in equal opportunity? Judging by their actions, they seem to prefer a society in which your station in life is largely determined by that of your parents — and in which the children of the very rich get to inherit their estates tax-free. Teddy Roosevelt would not have approved.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 8, 2012

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney’s Money Problem

Mitt Romney is fast becoming the Scrooge McDuck of the 2012 presidential race.

In Disney’s version, McDuck is Donald Duck’s rich uncle, fond of diving into his money bin and swimming through his gold coins. Romney achieved much the same effect years ago when he posed with fellow Bain Capital executives for a photo showing paper money pouring from their pockets and mouths.

But as he stumps through New Hampshire en route to his probable victory Tuesday in the state’s GOP presidential primary, Romney’s riches are bringing him a wealth of trouble.

Speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event at a Radisson hotel here, he was discussing the value of shopping around for health insurance when he turned to the camera, and said, with perverse pleasure, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

Thus did the likely Republican nominee film, pro bono, one of President Obama’s first reelection ads.

If this weren’t enough evidence that Romney represented the Plutocrat Progress Party, the first questioner confirmed it.

“In this historic election, we need to convince the masses that our vision as conservatives benefits them,” she said. “So my question is: How will you as the nominee get the minds of America behind you?”

At least she didn’t say “unwashed masses.”

Romney didn’t show any concern that the woman had spoken aloud from the plutocrats’ playbook. “That is the question of my campaign, of course,” he said.

Of course.

The candidate, who last year told a group of unemployed Floridians that “I’m also unemployed,” worried aloud on Sunday that “there were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip” when he worked in the consulting business – an enterprise that helped build his personal wealth to as much as $250 million.

Perhaps realizing that the pink-slip pronouncement was problematic, the owner of multiple homes and horses asserted on Monday that “I started off, actually, at the entry level, coming out of graduate school.”

Newly minted MBAs from Romney’s Harvard can count on making well into the six figures in their “entry-level” jobs at consulting firms.

The entry-level explanation didn’t advance far with Romney’s rivals.

Rick Perry, whose net worth is rather south of Romney’s, responded while touring a restaurant in South Carolina: “Now, I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because his company, Bain Capital, with all the jobs that they killed, I’m sure he was worried that he’d run out of pink slips.”

And Newt Gingrich described Bain Capital as a “small group of rich people manipulating the lives of thousands of people and taking all the money.”

Gingrich, however, lives in a glass mansion on this one. He boasts about his $60,000-a-pop speeches and has taken to complaining about food-stamp recipients in his speeches here in New Hampshire.

By the time Romney arrived at his next event on Monday, he was clearly out of sorts. First, he mixed up his own offspring as he made the introductions: “My third son is Ben, who has been missing. He’s a doctor from Utah. He came in last night. Special applause.” After the applause, Romney revised: “What did I say? My third son is coming tonight. Ben is my fourth.”

Romney went on to attempt to explain the value of shopping around for health insurance – this time without mentioning the pleasure he gets from firing people. He likened it to auto insurance. “If you watch on TV, the little animal, little gecko? You see these guys competing hard for your business.”

In the audience, many of the 150 reporters looked at one another and smiled.

The candidate had already treated them to a wealth of blue-blooded phrases during the day, seasoning his speech to the Chamber of Commerce with phrases such as “net-net” and “if you’re in a C-corporation” and “get a pro forma together.”

Net-net, nothing says “common man” quite like “get a pro forma together.”

Romney was not done with his “firing” line, however. After his event, held in a metal fabricating plant, he returned to take questions from the unwashed masses of the news corps, including 35 TV cameras.

He said that his fondness for firing was limited to health-insurance providers, and that “people are going to take things out of context and make it something it is not.”

This from a man who recently released an ad appearing to show President Obama saying that “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” In fact, Obama, in the 2008 passage, was quoting an aide to John McCain.

And now Romney is complaining about being taken out of context? That’s rich.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 9, 2011

January 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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