Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Further Follies of the Romney Campaign

President Obama made a speech last Friday in Roanoke. Here’s part of what he said:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President–because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.
It’s better, no doubt, out loud with a good speaker like Mr. Obama putting some passion behind it, but it’s pretty much a boiler-plate argument that suggests that a functioning society and a complex economy are good things, and that there are ways government can help. Yeah, there are a couple of places that could have been worded a little better, and the National Review’s Yuval Levin may have a point that the quotation makes it sound like “Obama thinks he is running against a band of nihilistic Ayn Rand objectivists who champion complete and utter radical individualism.” Ultimately, however, there is absolutely nothing the least bit controversial about the President’s remarks.

That is, until the whores fine folks at Fox News got ahold of it and edited out the context. We ended up with a single short quotation: “If you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen.” In other words, the demonstrative pronoun “that,” by which Obama clearly meant “roads,” “bridges,” and (subsequently) “the Internet,” is transformed to mean “[your] business.” Then, following their time-honored M.O., Fox reported about “business groups” who “criticize Obama about government’s role in success.” And the meme was picked up by every Fox talking head: wouldn't want anyone to think critical thinking is a good thing, after all. SOP for Fox, in other words.

And it’s no surprise that similar bottom-feeders like Rush Limbaugh quickly got into the act. It’s what these people do: lie, distort, manufacture phony outrage, and peddle their snake oil to an ovine audience too stupid, too incurious, and too intellectually lazy to question their palpably misleading swill.

There is, in short, no story here. Saying that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk are lying bastards is like saying nose tackles tend to be larger than jockeys. The problem is when people the rest of us are trying to take seriously—Mitt Romney, for instance—start regurgitating this nonsense. There are plenty of reasons not to vote for Romney, but his apparent belief that Fox News is any more accurate than Pravda has to be pretty high on the list.

Romney knows better. He knows that government has a function, and that any functioning civilization relies on both individual and collective achievement: he’s not Ron Paul, after all. But, true to his sleazy form, he pretended to be sore offended by the President’s remarks: “Our economy is driven by free people pursuing their ideas and their dreams. It is not driven by government and what the president is doing is crushing economic freedom.” No, he’s not. Shut up.

As Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo reports,
Romney suggested Obama was telling business leaders they didn’t deserve credit for their own companies.

‘To say something like that is not just foolishness, it’s insulting to every entrepreneur and innovator,’ Romney said. He recounted how a friend, Jimmy John Liautaud, built a successful sandwich business from the ground up.

‘I do not give government credit for having built that, I give free people credit for having built that business,’ Romney said.
Romney has used Liautaud as a role model before, telling college students to simply borrow $20,000 from their parents to start up a business, because every family in America has that kind of disposable capital for each of their kids, right?

Romney is using a classic straw man argument, taking righteous umbrage at something he either knows Obama didn’t say, or didn’t bother to find out whether Obama said it. At least, however, he left the truly disgusting oratory to John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire, G.W. Bush chief of staff and GOP National Chairman, and current and on-going asshat. Sununu launched into a tirade about the Obama campaign’s prodding Romney to release more tax returns:
It just shows how stupid the Obama campaign is to think that someone who has been a public businessman all his life and governor of Massachusetts—if he didn't pay his returns, you don't think the IRS would be knocking at his door?

If that were true the IRS would have knocked at his door and we would all know about it. So by definition in running that ad, the Obama campaign has once again demonstrated that they are clearly and unequivocably [sic.] a bunch of liars.
I’m not arguing that the Obama campaign hasn’t been dishonest, but this episode doesn’t prove it. First off, Romney didn’t release tax information when running for senator or governor, so there hasn’t been a lot of public scrutiny. More to the point, no one seriously suspects that Romney’s tax returns will show anything illegal. Rather, they might reveal politically embarrassing information: indeed, it is difficult to disagree with George Will—no leftist, he—in the suggestion that “the costs of not releasing the returns are clear; therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs to release them.”

Unfortunately for Governor Romney, his henchman Sununu is very much like his candidate: smart (but not as smart as he thinks he is) and extraordinarily smug. Sununu’s rhetoric got away from him this morning, and he (in Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon’s words) “veered into Birther-lite territory when he told Fox News that President Obama is not American enough. ‘I wish this president would learn how to be an American,’ Sununu said.” Yeah. He said that.

I do not dispute the sincerity of Sununu’s subsequent apology, nor do I doubt for a moment that he was referring, as he later clarified, to economic policy rather than “Birther-lite territory,” as Seitz-Wald would have it. But that’s almost worse. There is nothing unreasonable about the President’s comments, nothing that the two former New England governors wouldn’t endorse enthusiastically if the opponent were a Tea Partier rather than a Democrat.

There is nothing un-American about Barack Obama’s political philosophy or his policies. We can reasonably disagree about their effectiveness or advisability, but they are firmly and unequivocally within the mainstream of American political discourse: I’d guess that somewhere between 20 and 30% of the population wishes President Obama were a little closer to the Socialist bogeyman that disingenuous gasbags like Romney and Sununu try to portray him as being. “Un-American”? Un-American is calling the President of the United States “Un-American.”

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