Charles Murray's newest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, proves two classic truths. First, it is impossible to compete with self-parody. Second, be careful what you ask for; for you may receive it. Charles Murray asked right-wing plutocrats (he dismissed left-wing plutocrats as disloyal to their class and to capitalism) to drop what he derided as "political correctness" and denounce Americans who received governmental support as immoral failures. Murray is a vigorous supporter and flatterer of Mitt Romney, claiming that the fact that he became wealthy at Bain should make him a "slam dunk" for the presidency. Murray's reasoning is so crude that he announces a new doctrine -- the divine right of CEOs to govern America. "Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?"
No need to hold elections; simply make whoever tops the Forbes list of wealthiest people the president. Think of the competitive incentives that rule would create.
Romney and Paul Ryan answered both aspects of Murray's call of right wing plutocrats to arms. They embraced social Darwinism and the view that anyone who received governmental assistance was morally inferior and needed to be denounced. They agreed with the need to remove the safety net to destroy a "culture of dependency" so that the working class and the poor would be forced to assume personal responsibility and stop being freeloaders.
In adopting the full Murray, Romney has doomed his electoral chances. His response to a question by a wealth donor as to how he would convince poorer Americans that they needed to adopt "personal responsibility" will become a classic.
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what... These are people who pay no income tax.
[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Romney defines his prospective job as president as "not to worry" about the desires of 47 percent of his fellow Americans. These people are hopeless moochers whose votes have been bought by Democrats and their social programs.
The nearest analog I can think of was Barry Goldwater's statement that America would be better off if we cut the "eastern seacoast" off and let it float away into the Atlantic Ocean. This led to President Johnson's classic ad of a saw cutting off the eastern seacoast while an announcer read Goldwater's statement. The ad then asked the public the question that applies with even greater force to Romney's admission that he does not worry about the desires of nearly half of all Americans. "Can a man who makes statements like this be expected to serve all the people, justly and fairly?" Romney has made clear he has no intention of serving the 47 percent. Indeed, his position (the full Murray) is that serving their governmental service to the 47 percent is the problem.
Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
"Eastern Seaboard," Johnson, 1964
(Sound of metal saw cutting through wood; water rippling)
MALE NARRATOR: In a Saturday Evening Post article dated August 31st, 1963, Barry Goldwater said, "Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." Can a man who makes statements like this be expected to serve all the people, justly and fairly?
(Sound of wood breaking off; heavy splash)
MALE NARRATOR: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
Similarly, Ryan has adopted the full Murray by proposing a plan to remove the social safety net. At the invitation of the Steamboat Institute's "Freedom Conference" I debated Dan Mitchell, an economist at Cato on Friday August 25, 2012. Our primary topic was Paul Ryan's budget policies. Dan stressed an August 24 column he wrote entitled "For Once, I Hope Paul Krugman is Right.
Dan's column quoted what he viewed as the key passage in Krugman's column.
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."
Dan explained why he hoped Krugman was right about Ryan's views about the poor.
To be more specific, I hope Krugman is right in that Ryan wants "to make life harder for the poor" if the alternative is to have their lives stripped of meaning by government dependency. And I agree that it will be "for their own good" if they're motivated to join the workforce.
The Steamboat attendees (the base of the Republican Party) loved it. That is the point. Romney did not make a mistake in explaining his views. He knew that going the full Murray was the thing that would drive his wealthy right-wing donors open their wallets and provide him billions of dollars (often via the sham "independent" super PACs). He was pandering to plutocrats. They despise most Americans and they believe they are superior and entitled by their wealth to rule. They love Murray's message that their mission should be denouncing less wealthy Americans and ruling the nation through "principled stewardship." The full Murray requires the plutocrats and their political representatives to be "openly judgmental" in their denunciations of their inferiors. In defense of Murray, he stressed that this "openly judgmental" condemnation should also apply to the widespread abuses by financial elites that caused the ongoing financial crisis and the Great Recession. Because the financial elites who Murray emphasized either committed fraud or stood by silently while their peers did so and produced the crisis are Romney's principal political donors Romney and Ryan have ignored this aspect of Murray's message.
That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America's schools nor in many American homes. Correspondingly, we have watched the deterioration of the sense of stewardship that once was so widespread among the most successful Americans and the near disappearance of the sense of seemliness that led successful capitalists to be obedient to unenforceable standards of propriety. Many senior figures in the financial world were appalled by what was going on during the run-up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Why were they so silent before and after the catastrophe? Capitalists who behave honorably and with restraint no longer have either the platform or the vocabulary to preach their own standards and to condemn capitalists who behave dishonorably and recklessly.
I do not suggest that Murray was being candid in this passage. Romney was, of course, a top finance guy who was supposed to demonstrate "principled stewardship" but who, instead, exemplified the "near disappearance of the sense of seemliness" and the "silence" about the frauds when his public calls for stopping the epidemic of accounting control fraud could have prevented the financial crisis and the Great Depression. Romney, under Murray's test, is a moral failure. Romney made these revealing comments about the 47 percent at the fundraiser at the Boca Raton mansion of a man who published reports had shown was a master of slime rather than seemliness.
Romney and Ryan will have to backpedal from Romney's statements about the 47 percent, but this will disappoint their base because their base believes that Romney's statements about the 47 percent and Ryan's desire to make life more painful for the poor are "on message." Romney threw half of America in the trash because it was the best way to raise money from plutocrats who are more extreme in their disdain for Americans than the tea party politicians who pander to them. The right-wing financial elites despise most Americans. Remember that Romney knew his audience of plutocrats very well and was deftly playing on their prejudices in order to maximize their contributions. Romney's initial non-apology for his dismissal of the 47 percent claimed that he was not "elegant" in his statements, but that is a deliberate effort to divert our attention from the real point. His consignment of nearly half of all Americans to the trash heap was deliberately crude because his fellow plutocrats love the crudeness of his dismissal of those they see as immoral moochers. His speech demonstrated perfect pitch for his audience because his plutocratic peers are the only Americans who Romney knows and understands.