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Dean Baker Headshot

Will Romney Lie His Way to the White House?

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Mitt Romney seems ready to wield his version of birtherism as a major weapon in the fall campaign against President Obama. In his standard stump speech he tells audiences that President Obama wants "to replace our merit-based society with an entitlement society." According to Romney, this means a European-style welfare state that redistributes wealth and creates equal outcomes regardless of individual effort and success.

That's pretty strong stuff, but of course this doesn't sound anything like the President Obama who many of us have come to know and criticize. After all, this is the guy who got the top Wall Street bankers and told them that he was the only thing standing between them and the pitchforks. And, according to Ron Suskind, he assured them that he would hold his ground.

The Wall Street boys have not seen much leveling in the Obama years, nor has anyone else in the top rungs of society. It seems the substance of Romney's complaint involves President Obama's occasional references to "fat cats," his plans to restore the Clinton-era tax rates, and his national health care plan.

Taking these in turn, it really is touching how sensitive the rich and powerful are to being called out in public. While the men and women at the top rungs of the corporate hierarchy give the impression of being tough streetfighters who clawed and kicked their way to the top, we now find that they are actually shrinking violets who get hurt when the president isn't nice to them.

OK, so a President Romney will not say bad things about rich people. But there is a big difference between being somewhat impolite and doing anything that threatens the wealth of the rich.

On the latter front, the staple of the Romney argument is that President Obama wants to raise the tax rate on high-income taxpayers back to the level of the Clinton years. Calling this sort of tax increase a redistribution that leads to equal outcomes regardless of individual effort and success is just nonsense.

The rich got plenty richer during the Clinton years. Romney may be too young or too old to remember, but this was the time when the stock market had its greatest rally since the 20s. There were huge fortunes made on Wall Street, Silicon Valley and other centers of the "new economy." If this was a time when we saw equality of outcomes regardless of individual effort and success, someone forgot to tell Bill Gates, who became the richest person in the world during these years.

Finally we have President Obama's health care plan. Yes, this will extend health care insurance to tens of millions of people who would not otherwise have it. Of course having everyone covered by health care, which the plan will not actually accomplish, is not quite the same as ending the differences between rich and poor.

And the way in which the plan extended coverage ensures that Mr. Romney's friends in the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical supply industries can continue to make great fortunes in the health care industry. Romney knows this fact very well, since the plan is essentially the same plan that he put in place as governor of Massachusetts.

In short, when Romney makes a comment about President Obama wanting to have equal outcomes regardless of individual effort and success, he is just speaking nonsense. This is a gaffe, sort of like when then Sen. Obama referred to working class whites clinging to guns and religion before the Pennsylvania primary in 2008.

The difference is that Romney's gaffe is much more fundamental to policy debates and much less grounded in reality. Serious reporters would grill Romney and his staff to determine whether Romney actually believes anything like this or whether he just makes things up out of the blue in order to advance his political ambition.

If it is the former, it would be worth exploring whether he has other entirely fanciful beliefs. For example, does he fear attacks by space aliens and plan a major military build-up to defend us against them? If it is the latter, then it would be helpful for the media to tell the public that the Republicans have nominated a candidate who doesn't think that he can win the presidency without creating complete fantasies to advance his campaign.