Mitt Romney laid out his case last night. The speech was long, stuffed with the sleep inducing poll tested patriotic treacle and banal pieties that have become inescapable on these occasions. Mitt Romney campaigns in prose, with a mind given to power points not poetry.
Romney's handlers labored hard to "humanize" Mitt, but he'll never win a likeability contest. And for all of the prattle about "hard truths," Mitt's tacked to too many prevailing wins and flipped too many flops for anyone -- right, left or center -- to believe he's a man of rock hard principles.
No, Mitt's case is simple: Obama failed. I know business. I do turnarounds. I can fix this.
What is eerie -- Orwellian -- about Romney's case, and the Republican campaign is that it simply airbrushes the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression out of the picture. This Republican Party is more skilled than the Kremlin at rewriting history. Bush and Cheney did not appear at this convention. More notably, the economic and foreign policy disasters they visited on the country warranted no mention.
Look at Romney's speech. It starts with his depiction of our hopes and expectations when Obama was elected:
Every family in America wanted this to be a time when they could get ahead a little more, put aside a little more for college, do more for their elderly mom who's living alone now or give a little more to their church or charity.
Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team.
Every new college graduate thought they'd have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future.
This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits.
This was the hope and change America voted for. It's not just what we wanted. It's not just what we expected. It's what Americans deserved.
Say what? Obama inherited an economy in free fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month, with recession spreading across the world. Americans were staggered as their homes plummeted in value; their wages, hours and benefits were cut back; their employers teetered on bankruptcy or shut their doors. Worse, they had already suffered through a decade of wages that didn't keep up with the price of basics -- and so they had taken on debt to keep their heads above water -- second mortgages, credit cards, student loans. We weren't looking for the "best years ever" -- we were looking for help.
Consigning this reality to the memory hole serves many purposes. It allows Republicans to pretend that Obama caused the mess. It makes it easier to make the preposterous claim that the stimulus made things worse. It allows Republicans like Paul Ryan who championed every catastrophe of the Bush years to be born in innocence again. As Chris Mathews said, "I knew him before he was a virgin."
Most important, if the Great Recession weren't air brushed out of history, conservatives would have to rethink what they believe. They would have to admit, as former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan (like Ryan another Ayn Rand devotee) did in a rare moment of candor, that they were wrong; that there was a "flaw" in their view of the world. And they would have to lay out what they had learned, how their new stance was different. Instead, Romney and Republicans seek election without changing a word of the conservative gospel.
Romney was nearly 30 minutes into his speech before he offered Americans a fleeting glimpse of his agenda -- and then only tripped through five goals that were more promise than policy. Romney hides his agenda because he knows it is not popular. He would cut taxes even more on the rich and corporations. He would squander more money on the military. He'd pay for this by savage cuts in domestic programs, largely for the most vulnerable -- Medicaid, food stamps, child nutrition, Head Start, education and training, protections of clean air and water, workplace safety and more. He'll declare open season for the big banks and casino capitalism. He'll throw millions off of health care, while doing nothing to make it more affordable.
His "turnaround" for America is premised on the belief that at a time of Gilded Age inequality, the rich need more relief and the poor deserve less help. And for all the talk about uniting America, he'll sell this agenda by telling a frightened, angry declining white middle class that government is taking their money to give to "those people."
Also crammed in the memory hole, of course, is Romney's real business experience. The man from Bain can't admit to the vulture capitalism that made him and his partners rich. Early on, Romney realized that trying to build companies was too hard. The big money came from taking over profitable companies, larding them up with debt, raking the fees and profits for Bain off the top, and then helping management cut costs -- lay off workers, off shore production, shut down less profitable operations -- in the struggle to pay off the debt Bain had burdened them with. It isn't an accident that four of the top ten money earners for Bain headed quickly into bankruptcy.
Romney was an exemplary vulture capitalist. And under his guidance, Bain was expert not at building companies, but at milking them and every tax dodge the private equity lobby could help write into the tax code, every rule it could help rig to make money. The one tax return Mitt showed us -- with its Cayman Island corporate shills, its Swiss bank accounts, its dodgy retirement accounts -- is illustrative. This is a guy earning 20 million a year and paying a lower tax rate than the cops that patrol his many homes.
Mitt was successful at the very form of capitalism that has hollowed out America's middle class, racked up trillions in foreign debt, crushed unions and shipped jobs abroad. Its result was that workers no longer share in the rising profits and productivity that they help produce. The top 1% captured about 93% of the growth in national income in 2010. Mitt and Bain were part of creating the economy that works only for the few. It is exactly the wrong experience and the wrong values for righting this economy.
So for all the talk about "introducing" Romney to America, Romney has to remain an enigma. He can't talk honestly about the economic calamity that Obama inherited because he champions the very policies that led to it. He can't talk honestly about his business experience because it is part of what ails us.
But with the economy still a mess, his basic case may be strong enough: Obama failed; I know business; time for a change. At the end of the day, Mitt isn't a threat to Obama's re-election; the economy is.