This is the third and final part of my series on why there’s no good reason whatsoever to vote for Mitt Romney, even as a protest of Obama. The first part dealt with Romney’s laughable economic plans, and the second part touched on his shifting stances regarding foreign policy and social issues. This final post will cover the aspect of the candidate that I believe most swing voters ultimately base their final decision on, and that’s the question of character.
If you’ve been pleased with my lack of mud-slinging thus far, prepare to be disappointed because I’m about to take you on a one-way train to ad hominem city. Believe me, I’d rather make my case on facts alone, but most voters’ minds just don’t work that way. You can explain in painstaking detail exactly why a candidate’s economic plan won’t work, but they’ll vote for him anyway if they believe he’s a better person than the other guy. And when it comes to this election, four years of non-stop, vicious attacks on Obama’s character have left a significant chunk of the population with the impression that just about anybody would be a better president.
I will say that the list of Barack Obama’s character flaws is a long one, and it includes selling out most of his convictions for the sake of campaign funding, political expediency, or simply because he doesn’t have a back-bone strong enough to stand up to the opposition. That said, I do still have the impression that buried somewhere deep inside of him, he actually does have convictions—that he actually believes in the ideals he campaigned on in 2008—even if he’s had a lousy record at acting on them.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have any core convictions beyond sheer self-interest. Like his running-mate Paul Ryan, he seems to share the same kind of ethical philosophy championed by Ayn Rand: there is no such thing as an action that is right or wrong by nature—what is right in any given situation is whatever is to your own personal benefit, even when it comes at the expense of others. If people have to lose their jobs so you can put more money in your pocket, that’s the right thing to do. Life is a game, and the winners are those who look out for themselves. If your objective is to become the President of the United States, you must be willing to say and do anything that will get you to that goal, even engaging in the most flagrant and shameless forms of dishonesty.
The first half of this post will make the case that this is exactly what Romney is doing—lying his way to the White House because to him, the truth doesn’t matter. In the second half, I’ll argue that to Mitt Romney, nothing matters but his own personal success. I hope to convince you beyond any doubt that Romney has no empathy at all for citizens who may be struggling, and I’ll do it without even mentioning the infamous forty-seven percent comments you’re undoubtedly already familiar with.
During the Bill Clinton-impeachment fiasco of the late 1990s, the prevailing conservative opinion (which I agreed with at the time) was that Clinton lying to the American people about cheating on his wife was worse than the actual cheating. It spoke to his character, and anyone who could be so shamelessly dishonest to the American people didn’t deserve to be president. My, how our standards have changed.
To document every single one of Mitt Romney’s lies and deceptions throughout his two-year campaign could fill an entire encyclopedia, so I’ll just look at five of the most significant ones.
1. “We will lose”. Romney’s first attack ad against Barack Obama ended with a sound-byte from Obama saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we will lose.” The implication of course being that Obama’s record on the economy is so weak that he wants to do everything he can to change the subject. The problem? When Obama said that, he was quoting a spokesperson for the John McCain campaign. This is such an obvious and blatant distortion that even the neutral-at-all-costs Politifact gave this their most severe “pants on fire” rating. The reason why is obvious. If Mitt Romney tells an audience, “Barack Obama says if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” then Barack Obama turns around and says, “Can you believe Mitt Romney just said ‘if you’ve got a business you didn’t build that’?” he’d clearly be lying. Yes, those words came out of Romney’s mouth but he wasn’t making that assertion himself. Which brings us to:
2. “We built it”. It turns out that Barack Obama wasn’t making that assertion either. In another blatant example of shamelessly taking things out of context, the Romney campaign completely ignored the line right before the infamous “built that” quote in which Obama talked about roads and bridges. The conservative media likes to pretend that it’s fair game because the context is supposedly worse than the quote itself, but only if you deliberately misinterpret the entire argument. With the exception of the most radical libertarians, the overall point Obama was actually making is something everyone agrees with (even the guy they used in the ad attacking Obama for the quote). Of course business owners didn’t personally build the roads and bridges that made it possible for their businesses to thrive. Of course their success is partially dependent on the advantages provided by a functioning government, like the police departments that protect their property, the schools which educate the workforce, and the internet which almost all modern businesses now depend on. Nobody—not a single human being in the history of civilization—has ever succeeded completely on his or her own with absolutely no help from anyone. But Romney not only attacked Obama for making such a painfully obvious point, but in one of the most asinine political moves I’ve ever seen, his campaign based the entire Republican convention on the tag-line “We built it” as though Obama had personally taken credit for everything every entrepreneur has ever done.
3. “I’m not for a $5 trillion tax cut.” Now we turn from the lies of the Romney campaign to lies that came directly out of the candidate’s mouth. In the first debate, Romney’s decisive victory had nothing to do with the strength of his ideas and everything to do with the fact that Obama was asleep at the wheel, repeatedly failing to call Romney out on his lies. In my mind, the worst lie that Romney was allowed to get away with is that he’s not in favor of a $5 trillion tax-cut. This is not the worst lie because the math does add up to $5 trillion over the course of ten years and Romney can’t change that just by sheer force of will, but because it was the centerpiece of the overall lie Romney was telling the national audience about who he is and what he believes in. He was painting himself as a moderate when his economic plans are anything but. He insisted that he has no intention of letting the rich pay less than their fair share while the burden on the middle class is increased, but in reality that’s precisely what his economic plan would do. Just look at the list of Mitt Romney’s top donors and ask yourself if they’d really be contributing that much money to the Romney campaign if they didn’t expect a return on their investment. If Mitt Romney is elected it’s the safest bet in the world that he’ll implement whatever economic policies the people who bought and paid for him want him to.
4. “Binders full of women.” This was easily the most amusingly awkward line from the second debate, but it’s also the most shameless lie. It’s not as important as the lie about tax policy, but it speaks volumes about Mitt Romney’s character. Romney, in a desperate attempt to close the much bally-hooed “gender-gap” told a story about how when he was hiring people for top jobs in his administration as governor of Massachusetts, he was absolutely indignant when not one female candidate was presented, and insisted that he be presented with lists of qualified women to choose from. In truth, it was a coalition of women’s advocacy groups that pressed him to do this, and he acquiesced to their political pressure. If he were really the stalwart champion of women in the workforce he’d like women to believe he is, you’d think there would have been quite a few female partners at Bain Capital when he was the CEO, but throughout the 80s and most of the 90s there was not a single one.
5. “They’re shipping your jobs to China.” The latest of Romney’s lies is also one of the most shameless. Standing before a crowd of auto workers in Ohio, he told them he’d just read somewhere that Chrysler was planning to move all Jeep production to China. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then issued an attack ad repeating the same “pants of fire” lie. Chrysler had to come out and explicitly state that the claim was untrue just to calm their own workforce thanks to Romney’s attempt to scare them into voting for him.
There are so many more lies I could write about, like the assertion that Obamacare “robs” $700 billion from Medicare (it’s a cost-saving measure that reduces payments to private insurers), or that Obama wants to get rid of the work requirement for welfare (which has no basis in fact whatsoever) but if I don’t stop now I’ll be typing forever. I believe I’ve made my point: the truth does not matter at all to Mitt Romney. All that matters to Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney, which brings us to my final points.
Imagine yourself taking the family on the road for a nice vacation. Without giving it too much thought, you put the dog in a cage and strap it to the roof of the car. When you stop for gas, you notice the dog is frightened out of its mind and that he’s puked all over himself. Do you A) feel terrible about your mistake and let the dog ride in the car for the rest of the trip or B) hose him down and strap him back on the roof? If you answered A, congratulations. You are capable of basic human empathy, of feeling bad about the plight of another, be it your fellow man or man’s best friend.
Most conservatives will brush the now infamous Seamus story under the rug, as after all it happened so long ago and it was only a dog, after all. But I believe it’s completely emblematic of Mitt Romney’s character. This is a person who seems incapable of experiencing any empathy for anyone or anything.
The hands-down strongest case to be made for this (admittedly extreme) claim is just to look at his time at Bain Capital. If you haven’t, I strongly urge everyone to read Matt Taibbi’s piece on exactly what Bain is and what it did under Romney’s leadership. Then, if you suspect that a liberal like Taibbi is probably not giving Romney fair treatment, go ahead and read this piece criticizing the article. If that piece somehow convinces you that Taibbi had it all wrong, read Taibbi’s response to the criticism, and draw your own conclusions about where you stand.
But since you’re almost certainly not going to subject yourself to all that homework, I’ll just sum up briefly. Basically, a venture capital firm like Bain targets companies that are struggling financially, then borrows enough money from big banks like Goldman Sachs to buy up a controlling share of their target company. This can be done without the consent of the company, but at least Bain would usually take the less hostile approach of buying off the company’s management with lucrative bonuses. Either way, it’s the target company and not Bain Capital that are on the hook for all the debt from the money borrowed from the bank. The company can then either start firing workers to lower its costs, or go bankrupt. Either way, Bain Capital is able to extract millions of dollars in management fees while workers lose their jobs.
To be fair, Bain’s involvement didn’t always destroy companies, and there are many companies it actually managed to help. But if involvement with Bain is to a company’s benefit, it’s merely an unintended consequence of Bain’s primary goal—to make as much money as possible for Bain’s executives. And if Bain can make more money by letting the company fail, then it’s tough luck for that company and everyone in it. Ever wonder what happened to KB Toys? Bain happened, and it happened under Mitt Romney.
Your first reaction might be to say “that’s just the nature of capitalism”, but take a step back for a moment and think about it. Yes, Bain is a corporation and it’s the obligation of a corporation to make as much profit as possible, but no one is personally obliged to work for Bain. Could you personally go home with a big fat seven-figure bonus in your pocket knowing that it came at the expense of the livelihoods of thousands of people? Could you personally sleep nice and sound in your mansion at night knowing other people had to lose their homes to pay for yours? If you are that kind of person, I hope you and the Republican Party are very happy together. (I just worry for the well-being of your dog.)
There are some of us—I think the majority—who choose not to become Titans of Finance not because we’re too dumb or too lazy, but because we find the entire nature of the industry morally repugnant. Perhaps you can’t judge Bain Capital for doing whatever it takes to maximize profits and workers be damned, but you’re perfectly entitled to judge the people who choose to work for Bain Capital knowing full well what it does. The people who work in Big Finance are the kind of people for whom self-interest is the beginning and the end of all decision-making, and Mitt Romney is very much of the same ilk.
I’m going to close this argument with one more story that speaks to who Mitt Romney is as a person, and while it didn’t get too much attention when it broke I think it actually says more about his character than any other story that’s come out.
When Mitt Romney was a student in prep school, he had a reputation for being something of a bully, particularly when it came to students he thought were gay. People who knew Romney back then have spoken of an incident in which a student showed up to school with a hairstyle Romney considered too effeminate. Under Romney’s orchestration, a group of his friends pinned the student down as Romney took out a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut the student’s hair while he cried out for help. It’s hard to imagine more humiliating treatment. And even if you’re against homosexuality, try to imagine how you’d feel if someone you love who happens to be gay were subjected to that kind of abuse.
Now, the first thing everyone will say in defense of Mitt Romney is that this happened an incredibly long time ago, and we’ve all done stupid things when we were kids that we later regret. OK, fair enough. I never bullied anyone like that and to my knowledge no one I’m friends with ever did either, but it’s certainly possible for people to grow out of their adolescent immaturity and have a different personality as an adult.
What I take issue with is Romney’s response as an adult to that story being brought up now. When asked to comment about the story, the first thing Mitt Romney does is laugh. You really have to listen to the audio to get a good sense of this, so if you haven’t heard it I implore you to just take a minute and listen to your potential future-president. He laughs it off as though it’s no big deal, then proceeds to offer what is easily one of the most half-hearted “apologies” in political history. If he actually does feel any remorse for what he did, he certainly does the world’s worst job of conveying it.
But what really gets me is this: he says he doesn’t recall that particular incident. That means there are two possibilities. Either Romney is lying—which is quite likely given what we already know about Romney’s relationship with the truth—or he really doesn’t remember. And if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he really doesn’t recall the incident, it’s actually far worse than if he’s lying.
What kind of human being does that to another person and not only doesn’t regret it, but actually forgets that he ever did such a thing in the first place? If I’d done something like that as a kid, not a day would go by that I didn’t look back and regret it. Every time I heard a story about bullying I’d think about what I’d done and feel sick about it. But for Mitt Romney—assuming he’s actually telling the truth about forgetting—that kind of abuse he heaped onto a fellow student was just such a normal, routine thing that it didn’t even leave enough of an impression on his mind to be able to recall it as an adult.
I’m sorry, but that kind of person doesn’t deserve to be the president of the United States, and he certainly doesn’t deserve your vote. If Mitt Romney had any shred of honor whatsoever, he would have responded to the story by taking it seriously, by taking responsibility for his brutish behavior as a child and then—most importantly—imploring the youth of America not to follow his example by making that kind of mistake. Especially given all the stories about teenagers committing suicide as a result of bullying these days, the future leader of our country should want to make it absolutely clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and is certainly nothing to laugh about.
There’s so much more I could bring up, but I believe I’ll rest my case. If you’ve read through all these posts and still feel that Barack Obama is so horrible and you’re so unwilling to “throw your vote away” by voting third party that you’ll actually give your vote to a loathsome creature like Mitt Romney, that’s your prerogative. I will say that find it a a little ridiculous that so many people feel that just because we haven’t completely recovered from the second-largest economic collapse in American history in under four years, we need to hand the White House over to the same party that had control when the crisis occurred, but I suppose that’s the society we live in.
Part of me almost hopes that Mitt Romney does win. That way everyone who votes for him now will eventually come to realize what a ridiculous mistake they made. Those Wall Street bankers who are Romney’s top contributors are still engaging in the same activities that caused the last financial crisis, and after suffering no consequences the last time I’d say it’s 99% certain that another one is just around the bend. If it happens under Obama’s watch, it will be his fault but not because of progressive policies. People assume that because he’s a Democrat, Obama’s economic policies have been progressive, but in reality his policies—particularly with regard to the financial sector—have been anything but. At least if the crash occurs under Romney, the blame will be more properly assigned.
So regardless of who you’re planning to vote for on Tuesday, I implore you to vote. If the other guy wins, at least you won’t have to blame yourself for the disasters of the next four years. But if you don’t vote at all, you won’t really have any excuse.