Sunday, February 05, 2012

Michael Tomasky on "Willard Mitt Romney"

Michael Tomasky has a long New York Review of Books article on Willard Mitt Romney 01/26/2012 (02/23/2012 issue). He gives a handy description of what a private equity firm like Bain Capital does:

Bain & Company specialized in venture capital, essentially straightforward investing. Private equity—leveraged buyouts; after the LBO scandals of the 1980s, they simply changed the name—is another matter. PE firms scour the landscape for struggling companies, bid to restructure them, load them with debt in the form of borrowed bonds or notes from banks or hedge funds, and acquire them. PE firms invest very little of their own money, and they take advantage of a key tax loophole that permits them to deduct from their taxes the interest they pay on the money they’ve borrowed to finance the purchase. The company might swim or it might sink. It will almost certainly shed resources, which often means laying people off. The harsher the "restructuring," in some cases, the better the PE firm stands to do. And since the profits come in the form of capital gains for the partners, they are taxed at much lower rates than income—just 15 percent as opposed to 35 percent.
Tomasky reminds us that Willard was running from any hint of moderate politics in his previous Presidential run in 2008:

Mitt Romney, as the Massachusetts governor who passed health care legislation, had been a leader, just a few years ago, of the GOP‘s now much-diminished moderate wing. At the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Romney’s party took a number of positions completely at odds with those he had taken as governor, on abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, and other matters, and adopted other extremist rallying cries, like the infamous "Drill, Baby, Drill!" chant, which thundered maniacally (I was there) through the hall when Sarah Palin spoke, as if the assembled were packing decades’ worth of rage at the liberal establishment into those three words.
I've always been tempted to, uh, drill down into that "Drill, Baby, Drill!" chant of which the Reps were so fond in 2008. But it grosses me out every time I think of going there, so I haven't.

It's not entirely the Gingrich campaign's marketing spin that Willard has a particularly pronounced opportunist streak in his approach to politics:

Commentators have spent countless hours speculating whether Romney is “really” moderate or conservative. The answer is that he is neither, and both. The lessons he learned from watching his father fail to make it to the White House are: don’t stick to your guns; be flexible; suit the needs of the moment. And so, in order to complete his father’s unfulfilled destiny, he has decided to become his father’s opposite.
But Willard's inclination to pander shamelessly is coupled with class solidarity. To the 1%, of course:

At other moments, a very different impulse reveals itself, and Romney’s deep and perhaps even unconscious sense of class superiority rises to the surface. He likes “being able to fire people," he said to an audience recently, expecting a laugh that did not quite materialize. Complaints about his income are nothing more than “the bitter politics of envy." Income inequality—this is the most incredible one to me—should be discussed only in “quiet rooms.” And his speaking fee income was “not very much” ($374,000 in the year ending in February 2011). Here again, he is his father’s opposite: George Romney was known for refusing bonuses, explaining that no executive needed to make more than his $225,000 a year ($1.4 million in today’s dollars).
And I like the way Tomasky frames the issue of Willard's competence for the Presidency:

Romney would certainly, if elected, prove competent to do the job. Competence isn’t the question. Competence toward what end, however, is. He seems particularly intense when he talks of the need to build up the armed forces and would be competent at that. Asked in the first of two South Carolina debates whether the US should negotiate with the Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan, he answered:

Of course not.... Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. These people declared war on us.... We go anywhere they are, and we kill them.
We already have too much of this kind militarized, intervention bluster in our foreign policy. We certainly don't need more.

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