Andy Schmookler: What Romney and the GOP have in common
It appeared at one time that this piece would be published in a national forum during the last two weeks of the campaign. That did not happen. Nonetheless, even though Mr. Romney has likely by now been consigned to history, this piece has elements that lead me to share it here now.
Many in the Republican base have complained that the erstwhile Massachusetts moderate, Mitt Romney, is not a fitting standard bearer for today’s Republican Party. But there’s a fundamental way that Romney is a perfect reflection of his party: Neither is honest with the American people.
Mr. Romney is the master of conversions—seeing one light then another, switching between moderate and “extreme conservative” positions, depending on which constituency he needs to satisfy. At the first presidential debate, even those forewarned about Etch-a-Sketch were stunned at the unabashed abandonment and denial of policies that were central to the message he used to win the nomination. (Among his distortions: that his health plan covers pre-existing conditions and that he was not proposing any $5 trillion tax cut.)
Politicians have been known to be less than candid. But has anyone been as blatant as Romney in his willingness to say anything to gain political power?
That makes Mr. Romney a suitable leader for what the once-respectable Republican Party has become. When in power, that party lied us into war, lied about torture, punished truth-tellers in the bureaucracy, and changed what its climate scientists said. That party went on to lie about President Obama’s birthplace, about “death panels,” about Obamacare’s impact on the budget. And much more.
No wonder Republicans are not honest with the good people who support them: They’re working to take wealth and power from average Americans and give to those who already have the most wealth and power. Even though we have more inequality of income and wealth in America now than we’ve had in living memory, the Republican plans would widen that gap still further.
Their Ryan Budget is a fraud in terms of its stated purpose of addressing debt and deficit. As reverse Robin Hood, it’s the real thing. It guts Medicare, making seniors pay more to get the health care they need, and strangles other programs that serve average Americans—all in order to give another tax cut to the richest of the rich.
A political party couldn’t survive if it were honest about such intentions.
But the most fundamental falsehood is not about policy; it’s about the true nature of today’s Republican Party.
These Republicans claim to be conservative, but they’re not. Not if the essence of conservatism is a respect for traditions and norms.
America has a tradition that we don’t play politics with the debt ceiling. Today’s Republicans took the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to extort concessions.
The filibuster had traditionally been a brake for a minority to use in special circumstances. But today’s Republicans wield it, as no real conservatives would, consistently to thwart majority rule in the Senate.
American tradition requires that we accept defeat when we lose elections and acknowledge that the winners are entitled to govern. Not today’s Republicans, who set about delegitimizing this president as soon as he took office.
This is the opposite of what real conservatives would do.
Their pose as patriots is also phony. They wrap themselves in the flag and boast of national superiority. But they conspicuously fail the test of genuine patriotism: the willingness to sacrifice self-interest for the good of the country.
Before Mr. Obama was inaugurated and two months after campaigning under the banner “Country First,” Republicans set their No. 1 priority: Make the new president fail. In 2009, with the nation wracked by crises left over from their own stewardship and with American and global economies nearing disaster, the adoption of such a goal was grotesquely unpatriotic. It meant pain for countless Americans, and damage to the country. No real patriot would want that, regardless of the political rewards.
One cultural mantra of the America I grew up in during the 1950s was “Crime doesn’t pay.” Said so often, it was taken as a given. But aren’t the lies of political leaders a kind of crime against our democracy? And yet lately those are paying off big time.
On October 3, Mitt Romney lied or distorted his way to “victory” in the presidential debate and revived his campaign. In 2010, Republicans swept to a great victory because, as exit polls disclosed, voters bought their falsehoods.
When lies defeat the truth, liars aren’t the only ones at fault. Responsibility is shared by those who do not fight for the truth not only by correcting the falsehoods but also by conveying the moral outrage that scandalous conduct should evoke.
Our founders said government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. For that consent to mean anything, it must be informed, not misinformed.
A democracy in which the lie prevails will not remain a democracy for long.