by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
August 30, 2012
BIPARTISAN MADNESS AND THE NEED TO CUT MILITARY SPENDING
HARMONY CROSSING, Ga., Aug. 31, 2012 -- Mitt Romney's speech to the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa was not among the great ones that conventions of both parties have heard in recent decades, but it did accomplish two important things: It enlarged the mental portrait most of us have of this quintessentially corporate man, and it made it seem possible that he could pull this country out of its economic morass.
As it stands tonight, here amid the quiet lakes and hills of northern Georgia, I have finally seen with clarity that Mitt Romney's chances of being our next President are excellent. Last Spring, before he was chosen as the nominee and when he was not very high in the polls, I didn't think the GOP would even have a chance of winning the White House in 2012; now I know they do.
I keep getting appeals from the Democrats to send $3 in for the President's re-election, and I often wonder if they can understand, God help me, that I sometimes don't have $3. If you go to my bank accounts, you'll see balances of $0.05, $1.14 and the like - you won't see $3 to send to the President. If I had it, I would send it. Is there something wrong with this country that I don't have it? Or is there something wrong with me?
While my own financial travails are inconsequential, and I find it hard to believe that many other Americans are equally broke, I can't forget that when we decided - or the Bush and Obama Administrations decided for us - to bail out the banks that were "too large to fail," they could have trusted Americans with the trillions they handed out. We would have had to put it in banks to save, pay bills, pay down mortgages and credit cards, and they would again have had the assets they needed to do what they do. It would have been about $6,000 each, I once calculated, and that's not the kind of money you put under your mattress.
Our politicians don't trust the American people with our money. They would no sooner give it to us than they would give it to Iran. But that would have saved them and us.
Mitt Romney assuredly would not give us money. I do believe, as President Obama does, that the wealthy and those making more than $250,000 a year would be the biggest beneficiaries of government largesse in a Romney Administration. Mr. Obama, contrary to the claims of Republicans, has already substantially cut taxes on the middle class - even if he rarely seems to talk about it. Romney's plans would entail the "sacrifice" Gov. Chris Christie promised us on Tuesday night at the convention; the Administration says Romney's new taxes could well cost us more than $2,000 a year.
A lot of ideas will change and most of those changes will go unnoticed between now and late January 2013, when the next President is inaugurated. Fiscal realities will prevail over fiscal ideas, foreign policy plans will change in the wake of new foreign policy challenges, and the political need to make budget cuts in lieu of raising taxes will grow ever more evident. Should the harsh spending cuts they call "the fiscal cliff" - the point at which we reach the deadline set by the Simpson-Bowles Commission to either cut the budget or let the commission's pre-agreed draconian cuts go into effect (and I know some say that's not the fiscal cliff at all) - would either Mr. Obama or Mitt Romney have the courage to embrace the draconian Bowles-Simpson prescription? Not in this lifetime. They lied to each other and to the American people about that.
So why do I believe Mitt Romney may have some special ability to work out a cure for our ailing economy? I don't. First of all, while it returning to health only slowly, it is getting better. Home sales rose in 20 major markets over the past year, a modest signal of recovery. Corporate profits remain strong, and the big multinationals are more than capable of hiring.
It was amusing to hear South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley decrying the failures of the Obama Administration "and what they did to Boeing" when because of the state's right-to-work laws, Boeing workers were not unionized and not highly paid for their work. Possibly as a result, a number of the 787 Dreamliners have developed engine and other problems, and one airline just canceled an order for 35 of them. Meanwhile, with 9.6 percent unemployment in South Carolina, Gov. Haley is blaming Mr. Obama.
Only an exceptional governor can substantially remake his state's economy; most of that occurs independently, as a matter of economic timing, than through wise political machinations. Look at Florida's Gov. Rick Scott, who rarely mentions his promise of 700,000 new jobs in his first term; oddly, the press doesn't mention it often, either, but the governor continually touts the few thousand jobs he has helped create. While he may have had a point about future debt in rejecting $2 billion from the Obama Administration for a high-speed train from Tampa to Orlando, it also cost 20,000 jobs the train's construction would have required.
We are told that Massachusetts did very well under Gov. Romney, and he did institute Obamacare - or what became Obamacare, elaborated as federal law - and that worked. Moreover, he did take the corruption-ridden Salt Lake City 1992 Olympic Winter Games and turn them around at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of $1.25 billion. Pre-9/11, the City of Los Angeles mounted the spectacular 2000 Olympics Games with just $75 million from the federal government. So who deserves praise - Peter Ueberroth and Paul Ziffren in L.A., or Mitt Romney in Salt Lake? And given the pre-Romney Mormon leadership, why was everything so corrupt?
The thing is, though, that by hook or by crook, Mitt Romney seized the opportunity to remake the 2002 Winter Games and succeeded as no one thought he could. It might cost us a lot more money, but maybe he could do the same for the United States. Contrast his approach, however, with the Obama Administration's approach to the problem of our once-great automobile manufacturing giant, General Motors, once the largest and most powerful corporation in the world.
"As General Motors goes," said a now-disgraced Commerce Secretary in the Eisenhower Administration, "so goes the nation." Mr. Obama, against much backdraft from the Republicans, set up a virtual cabinet department staffed with GM executives and financial experts, loaned the automaker the money they needed, and the whole enterprise turned around. Mr. Obama saved tens of thousands of jobs at GM, and saved countless small car lots like those that line U.S. 41 in Bradenton, Fla., where I usually live, from abandonment, which had already begun on our main drag and is quickly being reversed. Indeed, if that old Commerce Secretary was right, the turnaround at GM may have signaled the beginning of the much-wanted turnaround of the American nation.
Back to that $3 for a moment. While I didn't have $3 at the time, I did have the generous coverage of Medicare and Medicaid and $427 a month that flows in reliably from the Social Security Administration. That won't quite cover my monthly bills, but on top of it I get food stamps, some $200 worth, that almost guarantees I will have fresh food to eat for an entire month. Finally, under the early blanket of Obamacare, I get Medicare and Medicaid, both for free, and Humana supplies me with a solid insurance plan that even gives me free membership at L.A. Fitness gyms and 10 free frozen but healthy meals they send each time I have to go to the emergency room.
My greatest challenge is to pay for gasoline, and I often buy it at $1 or $2 worth at a time, carefully measuring the miles I can go on that amount of gas. I drink coffee at McDonald's for $0.64 for a senior cup (unlimited free refills), and sometimes turn a $1 McChicken patty into diced-up pieces I spread over my $1 house salad, using the free croutons and salad dressings that McDonald's supplies - that's just $2 for a good chicken salad!
On foreign policy, which was covered in just a few short paragraphs mostly focused on our remaining militarily stronger than anyone else, Romney seemed to take one bold step: he suggested that if the Administration was going to set a date for a pullout from Afghanistan, "Why not make it today?" Does that mean he'd do that? I doubt it. We would have failed to civilize the Taliban, and would have to warn the Karzai government their slaughter was imminent. That may, in fact, be Romney's "October surprise," a last-minute game-changer. Why not, instead, "invite" the Russians back in? Or help Pakistan turn the whole country into an administrative region?
Romney made some inchoate sounds about Russian president Vladimir Putin and the "flexibility" the Obama State Dept. has offered him, and was cautiously critical of our trade stance with China, but no strong policy statements emerged in the speech - unless, perhaps, he was indicating he will go ahead and grant Poland the missile defenses they were promised and - ahead of time - unequivocally back any Israeli attack on Iran. He promised Putin "a little less flexibility, and a little more backbone." In any case, the words "Pussy Riot" never crossed his lips (nor will they ever stain Mr. Obama's public speeches).
I might be able to afford to wait for Mitt Romney to improve the economy, so long as his pal Paul Ryan doesn't get him to squeeze Medicare and Medicaid recipients and cut food stamps and Social Security. And as an aside, isn't it ironic that Ryan, the head of the House Budget Committee, a powerful man, couldn't save an SUV factory in his own hometown - and on Tuesday blamed Mr. Obama for not doing it?
I am a partisan of Mr. Obama, but I am going to hold out for myself and for you the hope that if Romney is elected - that is, if the American people are foolish enough to turn our economy back over to the Wall Street people and bankers who destroyed it - his particular financial skills can be brought to bear with good effect on our economy. I just wonder, though, every time I see that clip of his old man, Gov. George Romney of Michigan, growling forcefully about living with poverty as a child, why his son seems to have none of that bedrock and gravel in his voice? It would make a great commercial to contrast the two voices.
Maybe Mitt never had to shovel any gravel, and he wasn't a poor child, unlike his late father, who had to escape the Mexican Revolution with his family and depend on U.S. assistance to resettle in this country. And if he understands how poverty can persist in the midst of affluence, I hope he can turn my $3 into $3,000. I hope between now and then, when Mitt talks about getting tough with China on trade cheating and supporting our promise to the Poles on missile defense and aiding Israel if they attack Iran, we begin to hear some of old George's growl - and the backbone it implies - again.
Commentator David Gergen, dismissing the somewhat pedestrian style of Romney's speech, said on CNN Thursday night that convention speeches are in poetry, while governance is in prose. This was clearly prose but of a straightforward kind. The ending appeal, while devoid of an uplifting, Reaganesque theme, yet was undeniably authentic and powerful. It gives me hope that either way it goes in November, we might just muddle through.