Who’s the Status Quo Candidate?

Since David Corn and Mother Jones (with the help of James E. Carter IV and an an0nymous videographer) have exposed Mitt Romney as a major spoiled preppy ass, the Republican presidential nominee and his cheerleaders on the right are valiantly trying to make lemonade with the explanation that Romney’s rant against the 47% who pay no income tax was actually a eulogy for personal responsibility. He has even said that most Americans “would like to be paying taxes” (unlike himself?). On the other hand, Romney is also using this “teachable moment”  to criticize the notion of what he and his Republican parrots (or puppeteers?) disparagingly refer to as “redistribution,” which they claim Obama once professed to “believe in”   during a speech at Loyola University in 1998.  (“[T]he trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot,”  they say Obama said.)

Romney said of Obama in his own speech this week:

“He really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society. I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others, then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution… It’s never been a characteristic of America. … I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others, but to create wealth for all of us.”

John Hayward at Human Events blog, quoting campaign flack Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, helpfully pads out Romney’s point:

Toomey said these policies flow from Obama’s philosophy, which is “to have a government-centered society, one in which the government controls the economy, the government controls resources… and, as he has acknowledged himself, where the government decides how to allocate wealth – how much to take from whom, and to whom it’ll give whatever the politicians decide.”

Toomey described this philosophy as “the complete antithesis of what American has been about since its founding.  It is the antithesis of what allowed us to build the most successful society in the history of the world.  And fortunately, Mitt Romney understands this very, very well.”

He said rather than “a society where everyone depends on government, and we try to redistribute wealth,” Romney wants “a society that’s based on opportunity, where everyone’s got a chance to develop their God-given talents, and build a stronger, bigger economy that will create more jobs, create more wealth… where people will have an opportunity to thrive.”  Toomey said this was the “most stark contrast in vision between two presidential candidates” that he could think of in decades, and the choice for American voters in 2012 would be between “prosperity and decline.”

Both campaigns agree to a degree on that last point of Toomey’s–but, of course, they’ve been saying the same thing about every election since at least 2000. In fact, the choice is about the same as usual, between a candidate openly hostile to the notion of the common welfare and one who, despite words to the contrary, is almost exactly as likely to continue the course of middle class erosion begun by the plutocracy in the 1970s with only just a little less enthusiasm and alacrity. Even assuming that Obama is sincere in his belief, not in socialism, as the Romney campaign would have us believe, but in some more generally utilitarian vision of government, the powerful engine the plutocracy has put in motion is not easily slowed, let alone reversed. And let’s be clear, this “opportunity-driven” society the Republicans describe and that Obama’s mild critique is aimed at is the very one Reaganism was designed to install after it uninstalled Roosevelt’s New Deal. The very centerpiece of this Republicrat vision is one in which the greatest burden for upkeep of the government is placed on the class that wants and needs a “safety net”–the “takers,” as the Republicans say–and not on the job or wealth “makers,” who supposedly have no need for government handouts of any kind.

[Relevant aside: Romney made a show of releasing his 2011 tax return on Friday, revealing that he paid at a rate of just 14.1%–about what he claims he usually pays, given that most of his earnings are from capital gains from investments, which are taxed at 15%. Interestingly, according to Matthew O’Brien of The Atlantic, under his vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s plan, which would eliminate all taxes on capital gains, Romney would be taxed at less than 1%–to be precise, at 0.82%. (Under the same plan, the bottom 30% of tax payers would actually see their bills increase.)]

In fact, Romney’s “vision” is the very one our leaders have relied on to steer us to the precarious point where we presently find ourselves. Compare Toomey’s exegesis on Romneyism with this appraisal of the politico-economic ideology of one of the “intellectuals” of supply-side economics, the late Jack Kemp of Buffalo:

Kemp, who liked to call himself a “bleeding-heart conservative,” believed that America is not divided immutably into two static classes, but it is separated into two economies. One he called the mainstream democratic and capitalist economy, market-oriented and entrepreneurial. This mainstream economy rewards work, investment, and saving, and it provides incentives for productive behavior.

This was the economy of Reagan’s supply-side agenda, generating jobs, new businesses, lower inflation, and higher standards of living for most Americans. Rates were cut, but under the Kemp-Roth law federal income taxes paid by the top 1 percent of earners surged by more than 80 percent—to $92 billion in 1987 from $51 billion in 1981.

The other economy, Kemp explained, was similar in some respects to Eastern European or Third World socialism. It predominates in pockets of poverty throughout urban and rural America, with regulatory and cultural barriers to productive activity and a virtual absence of economic incentives and rewards.

Never mind that the longest sustained periods of growth in the US economy have been the result, not of unfettered free markets, but of “redistributions” downwards via social programs in the New Deal and Great Society, or upwards via top-tier tax breaks (combined with speculation-induced bubbles)  in the 1980s and 1990s. The powers in both parties have long ago learned to mistrust even the appearance of government having a hand in promoting the general welfare, despite its constitutional imperative to do so.

A vote for Romney, then, is a vote of confidence in the default ideology of the last 30 years, confidence, that is, in the idea that this ideology really would, if left to itself and unhampered by “socialist” Obamism, somehow free the job creators to create the jobs the economy desperately needs to become vital again. To prevail at the polls, Romney will have to convince more than just the Obamaphobic right-wing that the president, hampered though he has been by obstructionist Republicans in Congress and by his own obstinate faith in “bipartisanship,” has somehow had the power (let alone the will) to derail the great Republicrat engine, with 30 years of momentum behind it, in four short years.  He’ll have to convince more than the Obamaphobes that Obama, in other words, and not the failure of the default ideology, is the cause of our general misery.

Why, if this is true, then, doesn’t Obama point this out more clearly and lock the damn election up already? Is it because, perhaps, then he would have to admit that during his term he has paid deference to the status quo  ideology despite his promise for audacious change?  While Republicans sincerely believe in the “Romney” vision (regardless of how they feel about the man himself), Democrats seem not to believe deeply in any coherent alternative to it.  Some even buy the Republicrat plan wholesale. The last two-term Democratic president stated plainly (and, as it turns out,  falsely) at the start of his second term, “The era of big government is over.” Obama has continued this standard weak Democratic response to this  supply side status quo. His object seems to have been to minimize the turbulence caused by vicious bumps and curves in the road, but not at all to change the direction. Can we realistically expect anything more audacious from him if he wins another term?

Who, then, is the status quo candidate in this election? They both are.

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