Friday, July 27, 2012

Romney's Secrets

With little more than 100 days remaining before the 2012 presidential election the race is too close to call.  President Barack Obama, despite his high personal approval ratings, may pay the price for not being able to overcome the disastrous Bush recession, a global economic meltdown and four years of Republican obstructionism.  

But it appears many Americans are very reluctant to support presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.  The likely reason for their hesitancy is they are uncertain whether they can trust Romney.   And Romney has given even supporters reason for pause.  

Most recently Romney has been unwilling to release more than two years of his tax returns.  “We just laid out exactly what is required by law, which is all of our financial statements, and then in addition two years of tax reports, just like (Senator) John McCain put out,” Romney told NBC's Today Show.  His justification for this position,  “my guess is if you decide to do more and more and more, you just give the opposition the chance to distort and twist and be dishonest about more material.”   

So far, Romney has only released his 2010 return and just an estimate for his 2011 return.  His campaign says the full 2011 returns will be released once they are complete, but the election is barely three months away.  Further, Senator John McCain released his returns seven months before the 2008 election.  And Romney's father, George Romney, released 12 years of returns when he ran for president in 1968.  The elder Romney paid an effective tax rate of 37% in 1967, while his son's returns show he paid an effective rate of about 15%.

Of course, there are already many questions being asked by experts, reporters and the opposition about Romney's earlier returns.  For instance, his Swiss bank account raises tax compliance questions.  Why would a presidential candidate, wealthy or not, have so much money in offshore accounts?  What was the effective tax rate for earlier years?  Did he pay no taxes at any time?  Romney's strategy is to endure harsh criticism for another 100 days, even from Republicans, for not releasing his returns rather than have to answer detailed questions about his returns and his investments.  

Romney's claims that he saved the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 as its chief executive.   Romney promised "complete transparency," the Boston Globe reported. "Some who worked with Romney describe a close-to-the-vest chief executive unwilling to share so much as a budget with a state board responsible for spending oversight," said the newspaper, "Archivists now say most key records about the Games’ internal workings were destroyed under the supervision of a staffer shortly after the flame was extinguished..." 

Of course, Romney's success was in part due to more than $300 million in federal and $40 million in local government funding.  No, he didn't build it himself.  And the Olympics is a private organization not required to disclose financial information.  But, since Romney is claiming that his Olympic experience is an example of how he will turn the U.S. economy around, don't voters deserve to know about how he did it?  Why were the key records destroyed so quickly?  Did any vendors, subcontractors or even family members get sweetheart deals? 

The Boston Globe has also reported that when Romney completed his term as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, members of his administration destroyed emails, purchased hard drives, and otherwise all digital records of his time as governor.  In a November 2011 editorial board interview with the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire, Romney said, "Well, I think in government we should follow the law. And there has never been an administration that has provided to the opposition research team, or to the public, electronic communications." 

During his term, Governor Romney enacted spending cuts and increases in fees that helped wipe out the state deficit.  He also signed Romneycare, which provides universal health care in the state and for individual mandates to purchase insurance.  Of course, Romneycare was the blueprint for Obamacare, President Obama's healthcare law that Romney has vowed to repeal.  Digital records of key meetings may have shed light on Romney's views at the time on mandates, tax increases, budget cuts, abortion and gun laws.  But, once again, detailed records about how Romney conducted himself in a leadership role were destroyed. 

Romney's tenure at Bain Capital has been cited by his campaign as an example of how the governor can turn the U.S. economy around.  Bain's business was to make money for its investors.  It did so by taking over troubled companies and turning them into successful businesses or shutting them down and selling off their assets.  Just how many jobs Bain added during Romney's tenure varies, but the campaign claims as many as 100,000.  

Bain began offshoring jobs around 2000 as part of its strategy to drive labor costs down in some businesses.  The Obama campaign has hammered Romney as the "outsourcer and chief." Romney supporters insist he had left Bain in February 1999 to run the Olympics and had no role in offshoring jobs.  But the AP reported that Romney stayed in "regular contact" with Bain after he left, "personally signing or approving a series of corporate and legal documents through the spring of 2001."  And other sources say Romney attended meetings at Bain Capital after February 1999. Romney has no problem for claiming credit for jobs created by Bain after February 1999, but he takes no responsibility for sending American jobs overseas. 

Romney wants the 2012 election to be a referendum on President Obama's handling of the economy.  He has offered few specifics about what he would do to jump start the U.S. economy and where he would cut the deficit.  It's a secret, just like his taxes, his offshore accounts, his Olympic work, his term as governor and his time at Bain Capital. 

In his 2004 book Romney wrote, "We instituted a rule at Bain Capital that every meeting had to begin with a joke. I love jokes and I love laughing."  Well, come November Mitt Romney may very well have plenty to laugh about!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Is Mitt Romney's handling of the controversy surrounding the release of his tax returns an example of how he will lead America on even more complex matters if he is elected to the White House?  Is Romney's fumbling of the Bain Capital outsourcing issue an example of how out of touch he is with real America? 

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, has refused to release more than two years of his tax returns, even in the face of withering criticism from within his own party.  Most observers doubt that his earlier returns will show something illegal.  It is more likely that there may be something embarrassing.  Romney has admitted as much himself in an interview with the conservative National Review, "I'm simply not enthusiastic about giving them hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort and lie about."

So despite a fundraising advantage, fueled in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and a sluggish economy, Romney finds himself on the defensive.  The candidate and his supporters are now ratcheting up the negative attacks to a whole new level.   But will desperate and outlandish charges offset Romney's weaknesses?  

While campaigning in Ohio, Romney told a crowd of supporters that in the past six months President Obama has held more than 100 fundraisers and no meetings with his jobs council.  Of course, the president deals with the economy every day, and his election year fundraising efforts are not unusual--it's the American way.

Earlier in the week, Romney attacked President Obama for not understanding how the American economy works.  He stated the president said Steve Jobs didn’t create Apple, Henry Ford didn't create Ford, and Papa John's was not created by, well, Papa John. 

The president actually did say, "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  His point was that there is an infrastructure in place in this country to help people become successful. 

But the comment was muddled just enough to give the Republican attack dogs something to chew on.  Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu said President Obama "needs to learn how to be an American."  He later backpedaled a bit, "What I thought I said but I guess I didn't say is that the president has to learn...The American formula for creating business is not to have the government create business."

But Sununu wasn't through there.  "He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn't be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia," he said on Fox News. 

These comments followed shortly after those spewed by America's leading conservative Republican, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. "I think it can now be said, without equivocation - without equivocation - that this man hates this country," Limbaugh forcefully spouted, "He is trying - Barack Obama is trying - to dismantle, brick by brick, the American Dream."  His explanation, "He was indoctrinated as a child. His father was a communist. His mother was a leftist. He was sent to prep and Ivy League schools where his contempt for the country was reinforced."  (But Romney went to prep and Ivy League schools too?)

Many Republicans continue to paint President Obama as a foreigner, a radical socialist, and Un-American.  There is still a concerted effort by some to claim the president's birth certificate is fraudulent.  For sure, all of this energizes the extreme base of the party.  But it reflects a strategy laid down by leading party members on the day President Obama was sworn in.  Block, obfuscate, denounce and delay in Congress.  In Senator McConnell's words, do whatever it takes to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

But now the Republicans are in a pickle.  They held the most divisive presidential primary in decades and a flawed candidate emerged at the top of the ticket.  Romney was for abortion before he was against it.  He was for some gun laws before he was against them.  He was a moderate Republican before he became severely conservative.  He was against negative political commercials before he used them to crush Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.  

Down deep inside true conservatives do not know if they can trust Mitt Romney.  By not releasing his returns, Romney may seem less trustworthy to more and more undecided and independent Americans as well.  

Maybe it's time for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to start warming up in the bullpen?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Vote For "The Best Man"

Red, white and blue bunting, streamers and state banners decorated the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, while black and white television monitors flickered with fuzzy images of pandering politicians and gaggles of journalists.  The revival of Gore Vidal's "The Best Man" may be melodramatic at times, but there are plenty of parallels in this 1960 play to today's bitterly fought presidential campaign.   

"The Best Man" depicts a time when presidential conventions were brokered through backroom deals as delegates were swapped for political favors.  Then the palpable suspense and uncertainty would play out on home television screens across America.  Today conventions have become blandly predictable coronation ceremonies, just short of political infomercials.

The play takes place during a 1960 political convention in Philadelphia.  Vidal does a masterful job of making the backroom political machinations of those days engaging and interesting for the audience.  The clash is between a highly moral liberal candidate, Harvard educated William Russell, played by John Larroquette, and a blindly ambitious and unscrupulous opponent, state-school educated Joseph Cantwell, played by John Stamos, who took over the part this week.
James Earl Jones plays former president Arthur Hockstader with energy and flourish as he wrestles over whom to endorse before he dies of cancer.  Angela Lansbury is warm and endearing in her portrayal of Sue-Ellen Gamadge, a shrewd party operative on behalf of women.  While Lansbury's part is small, she is a powerful and memorable presence.   Cybill Shepherd and Kristin Davis are also new to the cast this week, and their performances as Mrs. Russell and Mrs. Cantwell were both uneven, perhaps due to first-night jitters.
Angela Lansbury, Joe Peyronnin and Susan Zirinsky following Tuesday's show
In the play, William Russell is an idealist.  “I don’t believe in polls, accurate or not," he says.  "And if I may bore you with one of my little sermons: Life is not a popularity contest; neither is politics. The important thing for any government is educating the people about the issues, not following the ups and downs of popular opinion.”  Joseph Cantwell will do whatever it takes to win.  When President Hockstader scolds him, "There have been moments when I have questioned your methods," Cantwell's response is unapologetic, "Well, you have to fight fire with fire, Mr. President."

Both candidates seek President Hockstader's endorsement.  The president meets separately with each of them before he is scheduled to give an endorsement speech.  He asks Russell if he believes in God.  Russell says he is not a believer.  Hockstader says, “The world’s changed since I was politickin...In those days you had to pour God over everything, like ketchup.”  Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the convention is deadlocked.  Russell has a small delegate lead over Cantwell and a third contender, but not enough to secure the nomination.  Cantwell receives a copy of Russell's medical records that show he has had a bout with mental illness.  Cantwell sees this as his ticket to the nomination.  In response, Russell's campaign manager finds a witness who says Cantwell had a homosexual affair while they served together in the military.  But Russell does not want to stoop to personal attacks, “In the South, a candidate for sheriff once got elected by claiming that his opponent’s wife had been a thespian."
In the end, the 1960 Philadelphia convention will not be decided on the issues.  There is no talk of the party platform, economy, social programs or the standoff with the Soviet Union.  Instead, the characters focus on pure politics at its powerful, pandering, philandering worst.  Especially President Hockstader, "If you don't go down there and beat Joe Cantwell to the floor with this very dirty stick, then you've got no business in the big league. Because if you don't fight, the job is not for you. And it never will be."

This year's edition of "The Best Man" is ably directed by Michael Wilson and is currently scheduled to run until September 9.   The star-studded cast alone makes the play worth seeing.  But Angela Lansbury is scheduled to leave the cast on July 22.  Her next project, "Driving Miss Daisy", will be staged in Australia this winter and will include James Earl Jones.

Of course, the U.S. presidential election takes place this coming November.  And by the time all the ballots are counted Americans will have experienced the dirtiest and most expensive presidential campaign in history.

Maybe candidate William Russell was right when he said, "Any man that wants to be President is crazy."