Whether or nor history will record Mitt Romney’s misadventures in Britain and Israel last week as the Republicans’ equivalent of Michael Dukakis in a tank, remains to be seen. But whatever missteps Romney made abroad, he did not misspeak. Nor did anyone who spoke for the Romney Campaign.
That does not mean, of course, that I agree with what Romney said or what was reportedly said by his campaign adviser. I don’t Apparently neither does Romney, who tried to rewrite his remarks about the “inferior” culture of the Palestinians even as right-wingers moved to embrace them. Meanwhile moderate Republicans tried, and tried, and tried to explain what Mitt Romney meant to say. Romney did not misspeak. He meant what he said, and he meant to say it. The proof is in the policies he’d like to inflict upon a whole lot of folks back home.
Mitt Romney’s policies show that he’s an extremist for the privileged. His words suggest the basis of his extremism, and reveal Romney as a one-percent supremacist.
When the conservative U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported that a Romney campaign adviser told the paper, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” and that, “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”, the widely publicized remarks remarks were denounced as racist. The Romney campaign denied, disputed and distanced itself from the remarks, but never demanded a retraction. The Daily Telegraph stood by its reporting, but honored the individual’s request for anonymity.
Despite Romney’s attempts to blame the media for making a big deal out of and misquoting his remarks, there’s little doubt concerning Romney’s remarks in Israel. When Mitt Romney said that the Palestinians “inferior” culture kept them from being as economically successful as Israel, he was speaking for himself.
Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. Romney’s campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.
“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said some economic histories have theorized that “culture makes all the difference.”
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
Despite his “clarifications” to the media that he wasn’t talking about culture, Romney’s reported comments in Israel align with the transcript supplied by his own campaign, as well as a long list of similar Romney speeches, editorials and statements going back several years. As if to remove any doubt about what he really meant regarding culture, Romney reinforced all of the above in a National Review Online editorial.
Mitt, That’s Racist
Predictably, Palestinian leaders denounced Romney’s statement as racist. Just a predictably, conservatives like NRO’s C.W. Charles dismissed charges of racism, arguing that culture is separate from race.
So, was it racist? Yes, but it was also more than that.
Culture can be defined many ways. These days it seems like everyone has a “culture”: there’s office culture, corporate culture, organizational culture, etc. But everyone has always had “culture.” Since before our ancient ancestors stood upright, where more two or three of us have gathered, there is culture. There is culture because it practically oozes out of us. We create it, and recreate it constantly.
Culture comes from people. The “behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols” that we accept without thinking about them, that we pass along from generation to generation, until they become so pervasive that we hardly need to use any words more specific that “culture” to identify them, came from the people who inherited it from the people who came before them, and they reshaped it before handing if off to us.
This been going on so long now that it’s impossible to separate people from culture. We are a part of it, and it is a part of us. We shape it and it shapes us; informing and infusing our character, identity and values even as we return the favor.
For most of human history, the business of constantly creating culture went on mostly between people who shared the same language and ethnicity. Even after, our various ancestors discovered one another’s presence on the planet, culture and identity were inextricably connected to membership in a group of people shared the same language, ethnicity, and geographic location. Even today’s version of cultural imperialism, in which the West
So, if one culture is inferior to another culture, then the same must apply to the people from whom those cultures emanate. Superior culture must come from superior people, and inferior culture from inferior people. That raises questions that people have struggled with for thousands of years, as an increasingly small world brought diverse people and cultures into direct contact and conflict with each other: What are the rights and/or responsibilities of a superior people regarding an inferior people? What are the rights (if any) and/or responsibilities of an inferior people where their supposed or self-anointed superiors are concerned?
Those questions have fueled most human conflict throughout history, and we’re still fighting over the answers. Entire shelves of books have been written about those conflicts, including two Romney claims to have read. I don’t have time, space or the rehash that history here, but Romney’s remarks in Israel &mash; and his advisers remarks to the Telegraph reflect and are loaded with the worst implications of that history?
Superior Cultural Imperialism
Romney cited “divine providence” as the part of the reasons for Israel’s economic power, and Palestine’s corresponding weakness. As Juan Cole and others have pointed out, Romney utterly ignored the role of Israeli (and American) power and money in the Palestinian economic plight.
Romney didn’t mention a little thing like U.S. direct aid to Israel of over $100 billion and indirect aid to the tune of tens or hundreds of billions more.
It is telling that Romney has no idea the economic straits to which the Palestinians have been reduced by vampire-like right wing Israeli policies toward them…
…Palestinian poverty has nothing whatsoever to do with Palestinian “culture” or “character.” It has everything to do with their being stateless and the theft from the Palestinians of their land, water and resources by the international Zionist movement, with the support of Britain, the United States, France and Russia and in direct contravention of British and League of Nations commitments to the Palestinians of moving to statehood and not being disadvantaged by the Balfour project of establishing a small ‘national home’ for those few European Jews who then wanted to live in British Mandate Palestine.
Stateless people have no firm property or human rights because there is no state to guarantee them. Their property rights are routinely revoked or not recognized, and the courts to which they could go for redress mostly view them as illegal aliens who don’t deserve justice.
The Palestinians are rendered stateless by the kind of cultural imperialism — “referring to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization” — used by imperial and colonial powers to render indigenous people stateless, along with the resources. It usually involved the eradication of the less powerful civilization’s culture either by eradicating most if not all of its people, or indirectly through cultural hegemony, which replaces the existing culture with the dominant culture.
(The Trail of Tears is one example from our own history, and there’s still more in the National Museum of the American Indian, where the content accompanying the exhibits includes so many body counts that it begins to feel a holocaust museum. The history of Canada’s and Australia’s “Stolen Generations” — indigenous children who were stolen from their families by federal and state governments, and church missions, and placed in institutions where they were punished for speaking their native languages, in order to prevent them being socialized in their native culture — are another example. Here in the U.S. thousands of Native American children were removed from their families, and sent to boarding schools, forbidden from speaking their naive language, given new “Christian” names, and immersed in Euro-American culture for the express purpose of the cultural assimilation of native Americans.)
South of the Border
Romney engaged in the same kind of convenient avoidance of reality when he cited differences between the U.S. and Mexican economies, to support his argument for blaming Palestine’s economic woes on an inferior culture, while avoiding some inconvenient truths about the impact of U.S./Western policies on the Mexican economy and those of Latin American nations. The war on drugs and NAFTA are just two examples of U.S. polices that have had a devastating impact on Mexico. By some accounts, NAFTA literally is starving Mexico; causing millions of small farmers to lose their livelihoods, because they are unable to compete with heavily subsidized North American corporations. When NAFTA didn’t result in the promised manufacturing boom in Mexico, many displaced Mexican farmers become tethered to the drug trade like their counterparts in other Latin American countries, turning to drug crops when unable to make a living or feed their families growing commercial food crops.
That’s just one example. Entire shelves of books have been written about U.S/Western interventions in the economies and politics of Latin American countries. Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is among the most recent to recount U.S. involvement in overthrowing democratically elected governments in Latin countries, whose policies threatened the economic interests of U.S. corporations. Those governments were then replaced by governments that instituted policies that were favorable to U.S. corporations — and devastating to their own citizens.
In 2006, the BBC special series “How the US ‘lost’ Latin America” determined that “In pursuit of American interests, the US has overthrown or undermined around 40 Latin American governments in the 20th Century.” Highlights include:
- The 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état, in which a CIA-organized coup overthrew the democratically elected, progressive government of Jacob Arbenz, after unused, prime farmland set aside by the United Fruit Company as a business asset was expropriated for peasant ownership and use, under the governments progressive land reform. The CIA action, from bribing military officials to propaganda campaigns against the leftist government, became the mold for intervention in Latin America. The coup was followed by the reinstatement of military government, and 40 years of civil war, violence and instability in Guatemala.
- The 1963 Dominican Republic coup d’état, when the U.S. allowed a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected, progressive government of Juan Bosch, seven months after his installment as the first democratically elected president of the Dominican Republic since 1924. Bosch called for land reform, low-rent housing, nationalization of some businesses, and restrictions on foreign investment. When a popular movement to reinstate Bosch arose a year-and-a-half later, the U.S. sent in troops that would remain in the country until 1966. The CIA and U.. Information Agency conducted a propaganda campaign against Bosch, who lost the 1966 election as a result.
- The 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, in which the democratically elected government of President Joao Goulart was overthrown by a U.S. supported military coup. Critics of the intervention cited Goulart’s social reforms — which included limiting the profits of multinational corporations, and nationalizing a subsidiary of the U.S.-owned International Telephone and Telegraph — as the motivation for U.S. intervention. Goulart was replaced by a military regime that would rule for two decades, during which hundreds of Brazilians were killed, while others were “disappeared” the military government.
- The 1973 Chilean coup d’état, in which a coup organized by the Chilean military and supported by the U.S. government led to the downfall of socialist president Salvador Allende’s government. As with Guatemala in 1954, the campaign involved bribing military officers and spreading misinformation through propaganda. Allende died during the coup, and General Agosto Pinochet took control of the government. Seventeen years of repressive military rule followed, during approximately 3,000 people were killed and 27,000 were imprisoned — many of whom were tortured.
Conservatives — especially the “severely conservative,” like Mitt Romney — are inclined to forget this history, just as Romney ignored the consequences of Israeli policy for the Palestinian economy and people.
We Are The Inferior 99%
Just as Romney and his fellow conservatives are in utter denial about the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian economy, and the impact of countless U.S. interventions in the governments and economies of Latin American nations, so they also deny the impact of policies that favor the wealthy over the working-class — and wealth over work itself — on the America’s economy and its people. As Cenk Uygur writes, that’s because to Romney and Republicans “we’re all Palestinians.”
The fact that Mitt might have had some advantages being the son of multi-millionaire governor and Israel might have had some advantages in getting $3 billion a year from the US and having a sovereign country is irrelevant to Romney. Richer equals better. Period. Who cares what the circumstances are? Mitt’s always about the bottom line.
Romney’s deeply offensive comments about the Palestinians probably won’t hurt him in the election at all. There is no group in America you can insult with more impunity than Palestinians and Arabs. That doesn’t hurt your electoral chances, it might even help. But what does hurt is the overwhelming sense you get from Romney that he is looking down his nose at you. This son of a bitch actually thinks he’s better than the rest of us because he was born to a mega-rich dad, figured out how to cheat the system at Bain and hid away so much of his money abroad (tax avoidance was an enormous contributor to his fortune – do you have any idea how much more you save up if you pay 10% in taxes a year rather than 35%). Now, that doesn’t sit so well.
Who wants to have a beer with a guy who thinks he’d rather be having a Chardonnay with one of his equals? To Mitt, we’re all Palestinians.
Over the last few decades, Leonard writes, Wall Street and the 1 percent have enjoyed quite a return on investment.
Because here’s the thing: Over the past 40 years, the venture capital and private equity buyout industries have grown dramatically, from basically nothing to becoming crucial drivers of corporate formation and growth. Last year, venture capital firms invested $32 billion in new start-ups in the U.S. while private equity funds raised over $100 billion for buyout activity. All along the way, government policy lavished both sectors with extraordinarily lenient tax policy — including massive cuts in the capital gains tax and the so-called carried interest rule that allows Mitt Romney to fork over only 14 percent of his income to the IRS — which has allowed financiers of every stripe to vastly increase their individual wealth. But over that same period, income inequality has grown and the average worker’s wages have stagnated, while the cost of healthcare and education has skyrocketed.
Facebook’s IPO and Bain Capital’s track record end up telling us exactly the same thing. State-of-the-art American capitalism works very efficiently for the 1 percent, and leaves just crumbs for the rest of us. Efficiency is good for them, but not for us. That’s quite the achievement.
For the rest of us, America is increasingly no longer the land of opportunity. Downward mobility is the trend most likely to dominate the next decade, as the middle class is thinned out. Already it’s harder for Americans to rise from lower economic rungs, and Americans enjoy less economic mobility than our peers in Canada and most of Western Europe. (Though Austerity may effectively put the breaks on upward mobility in Europe, too.) Among American men alone, 42 percent of those raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. Just 8 percent at the bottom fifth rose to the top fifth, compared to 12 percent of Britons and 14 percent of Danes.
It turns out, Wall Street was a big part of the problem. The drivers of economic inequality — from the loss of manufacturing jobs, to wage stagnation and the decline of union membership — have their roots in the very deregulation bought and paid for by Wall Street’s one percenters. Multinational corporations invest abroad, make and sell their goods abroad, while slashing wages at home, increasing their profits, and paying little to no taxes. Much of the increases in income at the top come from investments in overseas ventures, and profits derived from reduced labors costs due to outsourcing (which drives layoffs, paycuts, etc., at home).
Leonard connects the dots to include the the private equity model of capitalism.
The private equity model of capitalism results in eerily similar outcomes for workers. One of the ways in which the new private equity owners of a firm streamline costs is through “business process outsourcing” — a bloodless phrase that means, in practice, hiring cheaper workers (either domestically or abroad) on a contract basis to perform tasks previously kept in house. Call center support operations move to the Philippines or Bangalore. Manufacturing goes to China. Et cetera.
All of these measures clearly succeed in cutting costs in the short run, which is important, because the new owners have added a lot of debt to the company’s bottom-line that needs to be paid off. But they’re not the same as making investments in the future. It’s not analogous to pouring money into research and development or taking risks developing new markets. Short-term “efficiency” is easy to maximize at the expense of long-term growth but it’s a very open question as to whether the benefits of that efficiency are broadly shared.
The result is what Meyerson called “dysfunctional capitalism” — an economic system that, “when left to its own devices and when regulated by rules that powerful interests have shaped, tilts grotesquely toward the rich and their institutions.” In other words, the result is a “Bully Economy,” in which “the strong do what they can, and the weak endure what they must.”
Underwater homeowners facing foreclosure are immoral, dishonest “losers,” who deserve no help; Wall Street’s subprime swindle and foreclosure fraud notwithstanding. Poverty is explained by the long-debunked “culture of poverty” — an idea that conservative still embrace, and that Mitt Romney recently suggested to the NAACP is the cause of poverty among African Americans. Health care policy must be guided by the “the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.”
The “Some people are losers” sentiment itself echoes Rick Sanetlli’s infamous rant against subsidizing “the losers’ mortgages, and in favor of giving money to “the people who have a chance to actually prosper down the road.” It’s hard not to note with bitter irony that instead we subsidized, and are still subsidizing the bad bets of losers like JPMorgan Chase and Jamie Dimon. The “losers” are homeowners hardest hit by the very subprime debacle, foreclosure fraud, and rampant robosigning driven by Wall Street dealmakers like Dimon. The “winners” are guys like those working the phones behind Santelli, on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and like guys like Dimon himself. Santelli divides Americans into people who “carry the water” and people who “drink the water,” and its clear the latter could die of thirst for all he cares. (Or drown with their “underwater” mortgages.)
Santelli’s is not the only familiar echo. The ethos of today’s conservative right can be heard in the cheers of “Let him die!” from the audience at Republican debate, when Wolf Blitzer queried Ron Paul about the fate of an uninsured theoretical thirty-something young man. We heard it in cheers of the audience at another Republican debate, where Texas governor Rick Perry touted his record of executions. We heard it when Herman Cain joked about electrocuting undocumented immigrants. We heard it in the cry, “We are the 53%!”
We’ve heard the conservative ethos from Republicans in Congress. We heard it in the remarks of countless congressional Republicans, that the unemployed are “lazy,” drug addicted parasites simply to lazy to got out and get a job. We heard it when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s speech on economic inequality focused on “how we make sure the people at the top stay there.” We heard it in Speaker John Boehner’s succinct response to question about the number of jobs the GOP’s budget cuts would kill: “So be it.”
The conservative ethos has its origins, in the conservative worldview described by George Lakoff, in which material wealth and well-being is an indicator of moral strength, poverty and want are indicators of moral weakness, moral strength is to be rewarded, and moral weakness is to be punished. That worldview forms the basis of what Sarah Seltzer called conservatism’s “victim-blaming script,” which has its own basis in what psychologists call the “just world fallacy.”
The process is simple. It begins with the assumption that outcomes in various situations are guided by some unseen, universal force of justice or stability — be it God, the Market, or both. That assumption gives rise to a tendency to “assign negative moral value to those who suffer.” Seltzer describes in detail how that process played out with the murder of Trayvon Martin, as conservatives not only convinced themselves that Martin “had it coming,” but tried to convince the rest of the country as well. The process can be and has been employed to blame victims of violence, rape, and bullying for their fates.
The assumption that wealth and power are indicators of moral strength and virtue make it easy to assume that bad things must happen to people because it’s what they deserve. The assumption that people deserve whatever happens to them makes it easy to dismiss broad injustices. Once we can safely, and in good conscience, dismiss broad injustices, it becomes even easier to perpetuate them.
Thus is the Bully Economy born.
Democracy hasn’t done away with the “divine right of kings.” It has been manipulated by a wealthy elite, now empowered by the Supreme Court to manipulate our democracy to an unprecedented degree. “Providence” has provided us with a new ruling class. The conservative worldview, as defined by George Lakoff in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, holds that the wealthy are our moral superiors.
Competition is necessary for a moral world; without it, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.
Strict Father Morality demonstrates a natural Moral Order: Those who are moral should be in power.
And our moral superiors already have insufficient influence over our government, according to one Romney backer.
From there, it’s easy to make the leap to a budget that obliterates the social safety net, and a regressive tax plan that, raises taxes on the working poor and the middle-class, won’t grow the economy but will increase the deficit, all to give millionaires another tax cut.
Mitt Romney’s policies show that he’s an “extremist for the privileged.”
My friend and colleague Matt Miller wrote recently that “everyone knows Romney is basically a pragmatic centrist.” No, “everyone” does not know this. The evidence from his tax plan, in fact, is that he’s an extremist for the privileged.
We’re witnessing what should be called the Two Cadillacs Fallacy: Romney’s rather authentic moments suggesting he doesn’t understand the lives of average people (such as his comment on his wife’s two Cadillacs) are dismissed as “gaffes,” while Santorum’s views on social issues are denounced as “extreme.” But Romney’s gaffes are more than gaffes: They reflect deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States. These should worry us a lot more than Santorum’s dopey “snob” comment or his tasteless denunciation of JFK
Romney’s words reveal the basis of his extremism, and identify him as a one-percent-supremacist.