Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mitt Romney's Predator Nation

Mitt's World, starring Clint Eastwood.
It hasn't so far worked out that Mitt Romney's years in the private sector make a strong case that he'd be a good fit as president of the United States. On the contrary, his Bain Capital years have brought into strong relief the differences between the current Republican view of free enterprise and the Democratic view as espoused by Barack Obama.

Mitt Romney desperately wants Americans to believe that he "builds" businesses -- or used to, anyway -- and President Obama does not. This need for a job-creator focus is the whole rationale for the "you didn't build that" misappropriation. Of course, Obama was making the point that entrepreneurs need the education and infrastructure advantage of an advanced nation in order to succeed in the American or world marketplace, and most media observers have long since debunked Mitt Romney's misuse of the president's misspoken language. Any English teacher knows that Obama placed the entrepreneur's business project between the real antecedent -- infrastructure, business climate, trained workers -- and the pronoun needing that antecedent, being the "that" in "you didn't build that." Romney is cruising on the misunderstanding that "that" is the entrepreneur's business instead of the generally agreed "that" as infrastructure he didn't build.

Obama wished he hadn't "built" that sentence.
Whew. But true. So why does Romney cling to this sliver of a syntactical misstep for the basis of his campaign? It's because he wants to frame it as an us-versus-them debate. Us Republicans believe in fierce individualism, a world in which Americans are self-reliant and successful in isolation, winning by personal grit and determination. Them Democrats want to succeed on the backs of everybody else. Democrats succeed only by appropriating the sweat of others. In other words, Democrats are the slacker party while Republicans succeed the old-fashioned way, they "build" it.

This is pure fantasy, but it's the stuff of dreams. For Romney it's the dream of becoming president. For his conservative supporters, it's the dream that they control their lives. Dreaming, however, doesn't make it true.

That's because this is a dichotomy without a shred of evidence, but this is the frame Mitt Romney needs, wants to use. It fits in beautifully with the narrow scope of the shrinking conservative Republican Party of 2012.

Lincoln freed the slaves and preserved the Union.
This Republican Party, now the party of Romney and no longer the party of Lincoln because Romney wants to exclude the slackers -- read blacks on welfare -- while Lincoln was the first president to include African-Americans in the family of all Americans, simply by penning and signing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Mitt Romney's base is undereducated, working-class, Christian white men and the Christian working-class women who hang with them. His base does also include a lot of the 1% because of his tax and deregulation policy positions. It's a weird coalition, the ridiculously rich who have it all allied with the disenfranchised that have practically nothing.

The nation that Mitt Romney has inhabited and succeeded in is for him and his followers very much a predator nation. The whole rationale for Bain Capital has been that they win whether or not the people they help, with their capital infusions, win or not. That's because, one way or another, Bain got its fees, dividends, and capital infusion back in return. It's win-win. Because Bain took its bite whether the companies it preyed on survived or not.

Walden Pond: Thoreau went to mom's for dinner most nights.
That's just fine with Mitt Romney, and counter-intuitively, it's just fine with his white male Christian base. The idea that, as fierce individuals, packing heat and ready to kick ass, they'll succeed on their own terms works perfectly for them. That they have almost a daily diminishing opportunity to actually pull off such a success isn't something they can or want to be aware of. That's because they're deep in their dreams of being the high-plains drifter, the one that rides the Wild West, the cowboy samurai, armed to the teeth and ready to win at all costs, as long as they alone perpetrate their victories.

And that's why an aging actor, beloved, yes, by his fans who are happy to inhabit his fantasy world of Dirty Harrys and Josie Wales outlaws, belonged in the spotlight on Mitt's Big Night. Yes, that's why getting Clint Eastwood out on that conservative Republican stage seemed like nothing less than an epic political coup. Too bad the swooning fans in the seats -- and the political operatives and advisers in the wings -- hadn't taken into account that an 82-year-old actor was taking the stage and most certainly not the Dirty Harry they had hoped for, had crazily expected.

Listen, I'm a big Mick Jagger fan, but there's a point when I no longer wish to watch him strut the rock-and-roll stage. And that point has long since passed.

I digress, but only slightly. There's a world Mitt Romney still wants to inhabit. He calls it the land of opportunity. I'd rather view it as the Predator Nation. Bain Capital, by its business model, eats some businesses and lets others live, even thrive. As long as they get their taste, the men of Bain don't really care which happens.

That approach to life and business is, let's face it, essentially amoral. It's odd that the rump Republican Party is largely made up of white Christian males who mostly appreciate the Romney approach to success, with its singular lack of a moral compass. Not very Christian in my estimation.

A man without a compass?
Mitt Romney, with his story of success based on the predator-prey, amoral business model, has no standing to become the leader, the moral compass for the nation. For that's what a president must be. To lead one needs to know where they're going and why. And that takes a strong moral compass. Romney seems to lack one.

In this contest, in this election, then, I have to reject Mitt Romney and accept Barack Obama. It's not a hard choice. But in choosing, we're also choosing the unspoken and the symbolic. So much is unspoken, like guns and religion. Let's face it, Barack Obama rejects the armed-to-the-teeth paradigm, whether it's fiercely independent American with guns coming out of every orifice or the Department of Defense so well-armed that every nation on Earth must fear us.

Mitt Romney silently approves of his white Christian male base. His position on abortion and birth control has to match his base's: women do not own their bodies, their men, whether their fathers or their husbands, own them. Men make laws, make money, build "that." Women build babies.

We could go through every point of public policy, every tenet of the free enterprise system, every canon of every Christian sect, and find a duality, a dichotomy worth tussling about. But, in the end, I want to build it together with the hopes that all of us succeed together. Mitt Romney and his ilk want to build it alone as fierce high-plains driftin' samurai. Fine. Don't invite me. I'm not coming.

Unforgiven: what winning looks like.
There's a reason one of Clint Eastwood's most memorable roles was the iconoclast in the western "Unforgiven," for which he won an Oscar. Eastwood played an aging gunslinger who wanted to give up gunslinging for a more civilized life. In the end he couldn't, and though he may have triumphed, he remained, like the title of the film, unforgiven for his moral lapses. To win is not necessarily to be saved, in the Christian sense. Would that Mitt Romney and the Republicans could appreciate such wisdom.

Update. I forgot this fabulous Robert Reich video explain how Bain Capital works. Priceless:

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