In the debates and campaign ads leading up to the New Hampshire primary a new strain of Republican politics has suddenly surfaced -- a brand of compassionate capitalism that, were it to come from President Obama, Newt Gingrich would describe as socialism.
Gingrich has led this emergence with his blistering critique of Mitt Romney for being too good of a capitalist. There's even a movie produced by a pro-Gingrich super-PAC that powerfully tells how Romney ruined people's lives in his relentless quest for profits. Driven by the words of fired workers and a riveting anti-corporate script that could have been written by Michael Moore, Romney is blasted for shamelessly making big money by closing American businesses and eliminating thousands of jobs. I must admit, it's exciting to see what it looks like when the GOP puts capitalism on trial. In the past Romney would have been a Republican hero, a businessman who had what it takes to make tough economic decisions. But in this latest bizarre phase of GOP presidential politics, the guy is a monster.
Apparently the Republican field also hates special interest money in politics and the revolving door between government and corporate America. For weeks the candidates have hammered Gingrich for taking $1.6 million from Fannie Mae to be a "historian." He's laughably insisted that he never lobbied any of his former colleagues to earn that fee. Ron Paul and others have whaled on Rick Santorum for taking lobbying money from coal companies and insurers after he left the U.S. Senate. Imagine, a former elected official trading influence for cash!
But if Romney's critics were serious (and they're not), they'd be saying an "anything goes" approach to the free market isn't right. They would say he and all the other Wall Street sharpshooters made money at the expense of others and wronged thousands of innocent folks who believed in the American Dream.
The Republican hypocrisy is whiplash-inducing, even by the declining standards of American politics. Not that long ago Gingrich said that U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and U.S. Representative Barney Frank should go to jail for passing the landmark financial reform law that bears their names because it regulates the Romneys of Wall Street. Meanwhile the Republicans in Congress are practically employees of banks, Big Oil, insurance companies and other corporations that put profits before people.
As the candidates head into South Carolina, maybe they'll reveal what they propose to do about the outrageous free-market excesses they've discovered. Exactly how would they control the Romneys of the world--teach classes on compassion and restraint at Harvard and Wharton? How have they explained this to their corporate owners and political sponsors like the billionaire Koch Brothers? I suspect the Kochs have a lot of respect for Bain Capital, the corporate vehicle Romney used for his turbocharged pursuit of private equity profits. Bain Capital made money by snatching up companies on the cheap, stripping valuable assets and even shutting some of them down. Bain collected a ton of cash while eliminating jobs and devastating families and communities. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Since the Republican presidential candidates say they like regular people now -- even working and middle-class folks like the ones who give testimonials in the attack film against Romney -- they should tell the Republicans in Congress to extend unemployment insurance and the payroll tax reduction. And they ought to pay for it by imposing higher taxes on the super-rich, a policy overwhelmingly supported by the American people, including the millionaires who would have to pay more.
The Republicans running for president will obviously say and do anything to get elected, even if they sound like Democrats for a little while. Whatever they may say about Romney, all the Republicans are captives of big corporations that see our country as little more than a market to exploit for their private gain.
The 1 percent and the Republican politicians they own are tearing away the foundation of one of our country's greatest inventions, the middle class. Led by the Koch Brothers, right-wing extremists are working to undermine our democracy as well.
That's why the Democrats have to make the 2012 election about whose side the candidates are on. Are they for the 1% and the big corporations that want to destroy the middle class, or are they fighting for the rest of us? Are they for an America "where everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share," as the President said in Osawatomie, Kansas? Or are they for an America where the rich get richer while everyone else is left to fend for themselves in an ugly race to the bottom.
These are very different visions of our country. That's why members of Congress and the President can't give any ground on key issues like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. If everyone is in favor of cuts to these and other important programs, then the boundary between the two sides will be blurred beyond recognition, and the choice will not be clear on Election Day.