"Mitt Gets Worse"
There’s a funny phrase circulating out there in the online world of petitions and pleas for campaign cash: "Mitt Gets Worse." Now that the one-time "better friend to gays than Ted Kennedy" has chosen ultra-right winger Paul Ryan as his running mate, that’s become more than a catch-phrase. It’s become the chilling, but accurate, bumper-sticker slogan that sums up Romney’s political career.
Mitt has gotten worse. He is still getting worse. He will get worse still, if given the chance. We know little about the man, but we know this much. Let’s look at the trends: This is the man who invented Obamacare when, as governor of Massachusetts, he ushered in a statewide system for universal health coverage. Back then, when it was "Romneycare," Mitt was all for it, just like he was all for full civil equality for gays and lesbians in 1994. But remember, ten years later Romney, the onetime champion of GLBT equality, did his level best as governor of Massachusetts to derail the families that had finally, finally won the right (on the state level, at least) to affirm and formalize their unions when the first legal same-sex weddings took place in 2004.
Mitt’s race to the right could be seen as provisional, as has been every position and idea he’s embraced during his career as a politician. Romney’s own campaign has acknowledged the "Etch-A-Sketch" nature of his core principles: Give him a shake and he’s a clean slate once more.
But things have changed. Prior to Mitt’s selection of Ryan as a running mate, we might have entertained the hope that, should he win the White House in two months’ time, Mitt might not turn out to be so bad. That pledge he signed from anti-gay extremists to launch a federal investigation to charges of gay thugs intimidating poor, afflicted, straight Christians in the wake of Prop 8? Well, Mitt might simply have forgotten all about that, just like he’s forgotten that he once supported a woman’s right to choose what happens in her own womb. And that Constitutional amendment that would erase the right of individual states to decide who may marry and who may not? Mitt maybe could turn out to conveniently let that drop.
But Paul Ryan won’t. And Mitt has tied himself to Ryan as surely as if he’d chained an anvil to his neck before jumping into the ocean of the electoral race’s final stretch. Mitt’s race to the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-middle class bottom is not only a policy move at this point, it’s a full-on surrender to the gravitational forces of selfishness, exclusion, delusion, and elitism that drive the extreme right.
When you have a man as empty of core convictions as Romney is, he’s reliably going to take on the color of the company he chooses to keep. Color Mitt fringe right; as president, Mitt would not set the tone. Ryan, the power behind the puppet, would.
The thing is, it’s so very easy to see it coming. Mitt’s promises are written in water; as a political animal, he’s a jellyfish, transparent only in that he is formless. The very few clues to Mitt’s true nature, to the extent that he has one, point to something unsavory--something hostile to us just-plain-people: The "souring" disposition he presented to a classmate as he learned of the fellow’s financially humble background (back in Mitt’s days of exclusive schools and haircuts forced on peers thought to be gay), or the way Mitt took pains never to have to interface with the plebes when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Perhaps worse than his contempt for common people is Romney’s apparently bottomless ambition to rule over us, a thirst for power so extreme that it blots out everything else--including the ability to choose a position and stick with it.
When you’re dealing with someone who will say absolutely anything just because he thinks his audience wants to hear it, you don’t have a leader. You have a panderer. It’s no wonder that Romney’s campaign thus far has been built on trying to twist Obama’s observation that small businesses need government to build infrastructure into a claim that Obama thinks enterprising people did not in fact build their own small businesses, a claim that’s just as loopy and dumb as the notion that Obama was born in Kenya, or the idea that Obama is the Antichrist. (Or so some evangelicals claim, but... seriously? If Armageddon-obsessed Christians really thought that, wouldn’t they embrace Obama, the same way they embrace Israel, as a sign of Christ’s imminent return and the Rapture of the Righteous?)
Some might think that exaggeration and mockery is part of the process. After all, wasn’t the whole "Al Gore invented the Internet" thing just a hoot back in 2000? But hold on here: This stuff goes beyond exaggeration or even distortion (which even Obama, sadly, participates in). Romney out and out lies, baldly and in a fashion that’s all too familiar to anyone who keeps track of how the GOP’s operatives and candidates routinely tell big fat flaming whoppers. Indeed, the Romney camp doesn’t even deny it; rather, they celebrate it as a badge of menschhood, declaring that they won’t let their message be "dictated by fact checkers." That’s right, voters, you can trust Romney because he... er... lies.
Let’s think for a moment about what the cost would be to installing a Liar-in-Chief, or a Panderer-in-Chief, in the Oval Office. As Obama noted in his September 1 response to last week’s Republican National Convention, Romney "talked a lot about me; he talked a lot about him; but he didn’t say a lot about you," the common folk.
That simple observation cuts through the haze the surrounds Romney’s character and his kaleidoscope of chameleonic shifts. Romney doesn’t have a lot to say about us just-plain-people, because he doesn’t know us and he doesn’t care about us. What are we to him but another emblem of his status, if only he can flim-flam us into voting for him? Our needs and interests are certainly not something Romney feels compelled to protect.
Twelve years ago, when another spoiled scion of a political dynasty was running for the presidency (and was subsequently appointed to the office by the activist judges of the Supreme Court), we heard a lot about "compassionate conservatism," evidently because back then the right wing still wanted to pretend that they actually take to heart things like caring for the sick and the needy--you know, the central message of Jesus, whom they claim to follow without, evidently, having much of a grasp on what Jesus commanded. (No, the Christian Savior didn’t say to "love sinners and hate ’sin.’ " He only said to "love one another," hence the polite, bland fiction of "compassionate conservatism.")
But now, a "compassionate conservative" seems about as rare as a black or brown face at last week’s Republican National Convention. Romney strutted, preened, and struck many a telegenic pose; he may be an empty suit, but he’s a handsome empty suit, and he knows it. Indeed, his own superiority might be the only thing Romney truly believes in. Everything else--the health, the well-being, even the civil rights of us just-plain-people--are negotiable. For that matter, it’s clear that under Romney, our health, well-being, and civil rights would quickly be traded for the benefit of the rich and powerful. That’s what the billionaires who support Romney are counting on; that’s their part of the deal they’ve made.
To monied interests, America isn’t a noble experiment in democracy or God’s own instrument of earthly justice. Rather, our nation is another resource to be exploited for cash. We’ve had two major financial meltdowns under the last two Republican presidents. The last one very nearly plunged us into a global depression that could have dwarfed what happened in the 1930s. The only thing that stopped the crisis from going that far was the stimulus plan Obama launched, a plan that saved between 3 million and 4 million jobs.
Romney slams Obama for doing the only sane and responsible thing, and he lies when he claims that stimulus money saved not one job. As far as Romney knows, that might be true; what does he care about 3 or 4 million working class people who were saved from the street by stimulus money? But for just-plain-people, the stimulus program did more than save jobs; it save the entire global economy. Obama has sought to reign in the financial sector feeding frenzy that pushed American prosperity over the brink, and Romney’s backers don’t like it. They want all such regulation repealed. They want to finish devouring the carcass of the American economy. They want what’s in your wallet, and they’re willing to rewrite the law in order to award it to themselves. So far, it’s been the Obama administration that’s saved your bacon.
Not that the GOP is going to admit to any of this. Certainly, their point man won’t face those particular hard truths; even if he actually knows the facts, Romney’s not one to give credit where it’s due. As for his running mate, Paul Ryan told a trust-shattering falsehood when he said he never took stimulus money, and only admitted it when faced with the paperwork. These guys have lied to us straight out of the gate. Why would they stop after an Election Day victory?
Mitt promises a better future, but so far he has gotten worse: Steadily, predictably, cynically worse. Now that he’s yoked to Ryan, there’s no hope of seeing him climb back toward the light, because there’s no evidence that he possesses the strength of character or the clarity of purpose to do anything more than pursue power for its own sake. Would he know what to do with the presidency if he got it? Or would he, like W. before him, simply be a rubber stamp of a president for big-money interests? Who would the next Halliburton be under a Romney administration? What lucky insider corporations would reap the rewards?
There’s a spot of good news here, in that no one much likes Romney, not even his most rabid supporters. The guy is slippery and untrustworthy; all the teeth and hair and camera-ready poise in the world hasn’t concealed this essential fact. This year’s election is not the Tea Party’s nor the corporations’ to win.
But it is just-plain-people’s election to lose, if we don’t go out there in November and cast a ballot. Romney and Ryan are the bearers of a repugnant message, but in itself this is not alarming; it’s short sighted and vicious and even laughable, but even the most cold-blooded, double-dealing rhetoric arguably has a place in the marketplace of ideas. What’s alarming is the lack of enthusiasm for Obama as compared to four years ago, when voters were active and excited about the prospects of hope and change. This means the voters have played right into the hand of the Party of No.
For four years, Republicans have road blocked and defamed Obama, with the single goal of chasing him out of the White House and resuming the task of dismantling American prosperity and democracy itself. Handing them a victory for the harm they’ve done would be nothing short of suicidally stupid, but there’s a very real chance that’s exactly what’s going to happen if apathy takes over.
If you wanted a savior four years ago, and you think Obama didn’t deliver, adjust your expectations. Obama did save you--from a global depression; from financial chaos that would have been magnitudes worse than it has been; from four years of governmental attacks on your personal liberties and, if you happen to be gay, on your personal dignity and the safety of your family. It’s not enough to stay home and sulk in November because Obama didn’t turn out to be capable of working miracles. Give him the credit he deserves: Obama did turn out to be capable of responsible stewardship of our common good under extremely difficult circumstances.
That will have to be enough, because the alternative is so much worse. I mean, worse as in beyond catastrophic. I mean, Mitt Romney in full Mitt-Gets-Worse mode. You really, really don’t want to go there.
But if you do, remember one thing: It’s your choice. You have to stand up and make it, not just hand Romney control over your life by default and then watch your prospects, like the GOP candidate himself, get worse before your eyes.