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“Limousine Jerks”: The Rise Of The “Drawbridge Republicans”

As Republicans head toward next week’s convention something extraordinary has come into view now that their ticket is complete.

Mitt Romney came from wealth and went on to build his own quarter-of-a-billion dollar fortune. Paul Ryan, who has never worked a day in the private sector (outside a few months in the family firm) reports a net worth of as much as $7 million, thanks to trusts and inheritances from his and his wife’s family.

Wealthy political candidates are nothing new, of course. But we’ve never had two wealthy candidates on a national ticket whose top priority is to reduce already low taxes on the well-to-do while raising taxes on everyone else — even as they propose to slash programs that serve the poor, or that (like college aid) create chances for the lowly born to rise.

Call them the Drawbridge Republicans. As the moniker implies, these are wealthy Republicans who have no qualms about pulling up the drawbridge behind them. Such sentiments used to be reserved for the political fringe. The most prominent example was Steve Forbes, whose twin obsessions during his vanity presidential runs in 1996 and 2000 — marginal tax rates and inflation — were precisely what you’d expect from an heir in a cocoon.

(In case you were wondering, Ronald Reagan wasn’t a Drawbridge because he entered office when marginal rates, at 70 percent, were truly damaging to the economy. But as GOP business leaders now tell me privately, the Clinton-era top rate of 39.6 percent, let alone today’s 35 percent, are hardly a barrier to work or investment).

Most rich Republicans who champion regressive tax plans find it necessary to at least pretend they’re doing something to help average folks. John McCain, who’s lived large for decades thanks to his wife’s inheritance, famously had trouble keeping track of how many homes he owned — but McCain also tried bravely to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. George W. Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” and touted education initiatives that made this claim plausible.

Today’s Drawbridge Republicans can’t be bothered. Yes, when their political back is to the wall — as Romney’s increasingly is — they’ll slap together a page of bullet points and dub it “a plan for the middle class.” But this is only under duress. The rest of the time they seem blissfully unaware of how off-key they sound. As the humorist Andy Borowitz tweeted the other day, “As a general matter, it’s a bad idea to talk about austerity if you just had a horse lose in the Olympics.”

Contrast conservative Prime Minister (and heir) David Cameron’s decision to defer his plans to lower the top 50 percent marginal rate in the UK. “When you’re taking the country through difficult times and difficult decisions,” Cameron said, “you’ve got to take the country with you. That means permanently trying to make the argument that what you’re doing is fair and seen to be fair.” As his spokesman added: “We need to ask those with the broadest shoulders to contribute the most.”

Now that’s a conservative ruling class with a conscience! Can anyone imagine Romney and Ryan saying the same?

The interesting question concerns psychology. Drawbridge Republicans are flesh and blood human beings peddling indefensible priorities. How do they manage it and still feel good about themselves? One possibility is that they’re simply missing the genes for empathy and self-awareness. (Steve Forbes always did seem a bit like a bubble boy whose inheritance left him impervious).

But for today’s GOP ticket that explanation feels off. Romney, for all his awkwardness, campaigned and governed in a liberal state, and he enacted a pioneering universal health care law that’s helped many of modest means achieve health security. Ryan is equally mysterious — the boy-next-door who pays lip service to “upward mobility” yet seems to have no notion his plans would likely produce what liberal analyst Robert Greenstein calls “the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history.”

My hunch is that extreme forms of rationalization and other defense mechanisms help Drawbridge Republicans cope with the cognitive dissonance. The growth of partisan media makes it easy to tune out disquieting dissenting views.

Whatever lies behind it, the rise of the Drawbridge Republicans makes the stakes of this election even higher. If Romney and Ryan actually win on their Drawbridge agenda, the United States will have crossed a scary new Rubicon for a supposedly advanced democracy. For years, whenever I’ve heard people criticize “limousine liberals,” I’ve always thought, well, at least that’s better than being a “limousine jerk.” Now it turns out that’s exactly what a Drawbridge Republican is.

 

By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 21, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Failure Of A Theme”: “We Built It” On The Taxpayers Dime

The Republican National Convention’s organizers probably thought they were being clever. They announced this week that on the second night of the gathering — with local, state, and federal officials standing by to help in the event of a hurricane — they’d host a “We Built It” day.

The idea, of course, is to mock President Obama’s belief that public institutions and government investments help create a society in which the private sector thrives. Republicans intend to host their “We Built It” day in an arena largely financed by taxpayers.

Wait, it gets worse.

On the day that the GOP convention will tout Fox-fueled myth “We Built It” as its primary theme, Delaware Lt. Gov. candidate and small business owner Sher Valenzuela is slated to deliver a speech about small business issues. But contrary to the evening’s theme, Valenzuela’s company, First State Manufacturing, has received millions of dollars in federal loans and contracts. Valenzuela has not only attributed her success in part to this outside assistance, but urged other small business owners to follow the same strategy of seeking government funds.

Media Matters found that Valenzuela even gave a presentation earlier this year on her small business success, crediting the use of “millions of dollars in secure government contracts.” She encouraged other entrepreneurs to take advantage of public institutions and government investments to help their businesses get ahead.

Making matters slightly worse, a featured guest at a Paul Ryan event yesterday boasted about getting government funding to help build his business, and in a new op-ed on his private-sector background, Mitt Romney boasted today about the success of many Bain businesses, several of which have benefited from government largesse.

As attacks go, this out-of-context smear has always been problematic. Romney was desperate to prove that American free enterprise thrives without the support of government, but when he pointed to examples, they all thrived thanks to the support of public institutions and tax dollars. This happened over and over and over and over again, ultimately proving that the entire line of attack is self-defeating.

And the problem will apparently continue, as if self-awareness no longer matters at all.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 24, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Recreating The Great Depression”: Paul Ryan, John Galt, Gold And God

So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for vice president, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.

In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees. True, in recent years, he has tried to downplay his Randism, calling it an “urban legend.” It’s not hard to see why: Rand’s fervent atheism — not to mention her declaration that “abortion is a moral right” — isn’t what the G.O.P. base wants to hear.

But Mr. Ryan is being disingenuous. In 2005, he told the Atlas Society, which is devoted to promoting Rand’s ideas, that she inspired his political career: “If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He also declared that Rand’s work was required reading for his staff and interns.

And the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”

This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.

But wait, there’s more: “Atlas Shrugged” apparently shaped Mr. Ryan’s views on monetary policy, views that he clings to despite having been repeatedly, completely wrong in his predictions.

In early 2011, Mr. Ryan, newly installed as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a hard time over his expansionary policies. Rising commodity prices and long-term interest rates, he asserted, were harbingers of high inflation to come; “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,” he intoned, “than debase its currency.”

Since then, inflation has remained quiescent while long-term rates have plunged — and the U.S. economy would surely be in much worse shape than it is if Mr. Bernanke had allowed himself to be bullied into monetary tightening. But Mr. Ryan seems undaunted in his monetary views. Why?

Well, it’s right there in that 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he declared that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” when thinking about monetary policy. Who? Never mind. That speech (which clocks in at a mere 23 paragraphs) is a case of hard-money obsession gone ballistic. Not only does the character in question, a Galt sidekick, call for a return to the gold standard, he denounces the notion of paper money and demands a return to gold coins.

For the record, the U.S. currency supply has consisted overwhelmingly of paper money, not gold and silver coins, since the early 1800s. So if Mr. Ryan really thinks that Francisco d’Anconia had it right, he wants to turn the clock back not one but two centuries.

Does any of this matter? Well, if the Republican ticket wins, Mr. Ryan will surely be an influential force in the next administration — and bear in mind, too, that he would, as the cliché goes, be a heartbeat away from the presidency. So it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.

And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 23, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Shared Tribal Identy”: Romney’s Birther “Joke” Wasn’t A Joke

After weeks of false attacks on welfare, Romney has lost the benefit of the doubt.

This afternoon, while campaigning in Michigan, Mitt Romney made a little joke about President Obama’s birth certificate: http://youtu.be/cht3bitxknI

Here’s the text:

I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised. Where both of us were born … No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.

Here’s the Obama campaign’s response:

Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them. It’s one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, Sheriff Arpaio, and Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.

Naturally, Team Romney is trying to stop this from becoming a national story, and the campaign has offered a variety of excuses why Romney made the joke. My favorite comes from Romney advisor Kevin Madden. “The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States,” Madden said. “He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised.”

Right.

Now, it’s unquestionably true that Mitt Romney isn’t a birther. He knows that President Obama was born in the United States and is fully eligible to serve as President of the United States.

But that isn’t an excuse, it’s an indictment.

Romney’s problem, throughout this campaign, has been his inability to seal the deal with skeptical conservatives. In the primaries, this forced him to take far-right positions on issues like abortion and immigration—he endorsed personhood amendments and “self-deportation”—and in the general election, it has led him to make a huge gamble by choosing Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan—whose plan for Medicare plan and views on reproductive rights are widely unpopular—as his running mate. If Romney were confident in his ability to win the GOP base, he would have gone with someone more moderate. But as it stands, he needed a conservative ideologue on the ticket to show his fealty to the movement.

The birther joke is further evidence that Romney is uncertain of his standing with the Republican base. It’s clear from the video that this was an intentional move to establish a shared tribal identity, and—judging from their laughter and obvious approval—that’s how it was understood by the largely white audience.

A plausible objection to this view is that Romney wasn’t trying to make a dogwhistle—that it was a harmless joke which went awry because of a bad delivery. Indeed, to push back against the emerging outrage, some journalists noted occasions when President Obama made birther jokes, while others set this as the other side of Obama’s snarky comments about Romney’s infamous incident with the family dog.

A few thoughts.

First, the video strongly suggests that this wasn’t a joke. Romney assumes a certain demeanor when he is joking in public—”ingratiating” is the word that comes to mind—and this had more in common with the Romney of debates and speeches: cool, controlled and confident.

But even if it was a joke, it’s important to understand the context. For the last month, Romney has devoted his campaign to falsely accuse Obama of gutting welfare’s work requirements (“You wouldn’t have to work, and wouldn’t have to train for a job”) This claim has been debunked by independent fact checkers, pundits, and major news organizations.

In each instance, analysts have noted the extent to which this attack is meant to play on racial fears and resentments. Romney’s welfare ads are meant to conjure images of “young bucks” and “welfare queens,” and are a callback to Newt Gingrich’s declaration of Obama as a “food stamp president.” Romney’s line on welfare is a mainstay of his stump speeches, and has been deployed whenever he’s addressing a crowd of working-class whites. Romney’s victory depends on winning a huge share of the white vote, to do so, he’s decided to play the politics of white resentment in the most explicit way possible.

If this were a stray remark, I would be willing to give Romney the benefit of the doubt. But given the background and context, I simply can’t believe that Romney made a mistake with his birther joke. It fits too well with everything else he’s done.

Between birtherism, the accusations of illegitimacy and the constant recourse to racialized attacks, it’s hard to deny that there’s something ugly lurking beneath right-wing opposition to Obama. Mitt Romney, who seeks to represent the 300 million people of this country, has decided to unleash it.

By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August 24, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Was The Stocking Stufffed?”: Time For Mitt Romney To Come Clean On His Taxes

Mitt and Ann Romney are deluding themselves if they believe that calls for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to release more of his income tax returns are simply a campaign instigated by Barack Obama’s supporters. Would that partisanship is sparking the demands for additional disclosure. The Romneys must know in their hearts that there is more to it.

Most Americans don’t begrudge Mitt Romney his wealth, estimated in the neighborhood of $250 million. His entrepreneurship is an American success story.

But voters also want to know why this fantastically rich seeker of the presidency is being so secretive about his tax payments and how he made his money.

Does he have something to hide?

If everything in his tax returns is above reproach, why won’t Romney follow the bipartisan tradition established by the presidential campaign of his father, George Romney, in 1968, and release more of them?

It’s not enough for Romney to say he’s paid all taxes that are “legally required.” A person who wants to be president should also be able to say, and to demonstrate, that no ethical lines have been crossed.

Romney has offshore accounts. Voters are within their rights to ask why this man who wants to be president would divert income from U.S. financial institutions to foreign tax havens.

These are not questions raised solely by the Obama camp.

Consider some points raised by tax experts in a CNN piece last month on Romney’s lack of disclosure. Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law and former chief of staff of the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, and Peter C. Canellos, former chair of the New York State Bar Association Tax Section, asked several good questions.

Why would Romney have a Swiss bank account? “Most presidential candidates don’t think it appropriate to bet that the U.S. dollar will lose value by speculating in Swiss Francs, which is basically the rationale offered by the trustee of Romney’s ‘blind’ trust for opening this account,” they wrote. And “you don’t need a Swiss bank account” to speculate in foreign currencies, they note.

Then they focused on the tax-compliance questions the Swiss account raises. “The account seems to have been closed early in 2010, but was the income in fact reported on earlier tax returns?” they asked. And did the Romneys file, on time, the necessary disclosure forms to the Treasury?

Then there is Romney’s sizable IRA.

“Even under the most generous assumptions,” wrote Kleinbard and Canellos, “Romney would have been restricted to annual contributions of $30,000 while he worked at Bain. How does this grow to $100 million?”

Plausible explanations exist, they said, including that “a truly mighty oak sprang up virtually overnight from relatively tiny annual acorns because of the unprecedented prescience of every one of Romney’s investment choices.” But it’s also possible, they said, that Romney may have “stuffed far more into his retirement plans each year than the maximum allowed by law by claiming that the stock of the Bain company deals that the retirement plan acquired had only a nominal value.”

Of course, we don’t know without seeing Romney’s tax paperwork.

Kleinbard and Canellos said the vast amounts in Romney’s family trusts raise a parallel question: “Did Romney report and pay gift tax on the funding of these trusts,” or might he have claimed “unreasonable valuations” that “would have exposed him to serious penalties if all the facts were known?”

The “complexity of Romney’s one publicly released tax return, with all its foreign accounts, trusts, corporations and partnerships, leaves even experts (including us) scratching their heads. Disclosure of multiple years’ tax returns is part of the answer here, but in this case it isn’t sufficient. Romney’s financial affairs are so arcane, so opaque and so tied up in his continuing income from Bain Capital that more is needed, including an explanation of the $100 million IRA.”

Next comes Romney’s low effective tax rate: 13.9 percent in 2010. (Recall that Romney said last week that over the past decade, he “never paid less than 13 percent.”)

The rate is probably low, the experts suggested, because the Romneys’ income comes from “carried interest,” which they called “the jargon used by the private equity industry for compensation received for managing other people’s money.”

“The vast majority of tax scholars and policy experts agree that awarding a super-low tax rate to this one form of labor income is completely unjustified as a policy matter,” they concluded.

So again, how did Mitt Romney make his money? What has he done with it? Why the offshore accounts?

Romney should come clean in Tampa with the Republicans who must carry his water.

Romney also should be open and transparent with the American electorate. They deserve to know his full, true story.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 24, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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