Saturday, September 22, 2012

If I Were A Mitt Man

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has done just about everything wrong since being nominated at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, last month.   Yet, while the momentum has dramatically shifted to President Barack Obama, it is not too late for Romney to win the White House.

Romney's road to self-destruction has been made particularly painful by the fact that many Republican pundits, and some Republican members of Congress, have now turned on him.   Some of the criticism is so harsh that Ann Romney, the candidate's wife, defended him in an interview with an Iowa radio station.  "Stop it!" Mrs. Romney said when asked what she had to say to her husband's critics, "This is hard.  You want to try it?  Get in the Ring." No doubt, many Republicans wish their wooden candidate had his wife's warmth and human touch.

But Mitt Romney is a CEO, a numbers man who enjoys crunching financial statements and developing profit-making strategies.  Those strategies, which varied from business to business, were focused on delivering the maximum return on investment (ROI) for his investors.  He would scrutinize every aspect of an acquisition, every accounting trick would be utilized, and every person would be evaluated, all in an effort to squeeze out ever-increasing profits.  Those companies that could not be saved would then be sold off for a nice profit.  To Romney, companies are people, and people are expendable in favor of profits.  

Romney worked hard to build Bain Capital, an asset management firm he helped found in 1984.  To raise capital for Bain, Romney courted wealthy investors.  This was his comfort zone.  He had spent his whole life around rich people, as the son of a car executive in Detroit, while studying business and law at Harvard, and attending exclusive clubs and tony fundraisers.  He speaks the language.

So it is no surprise that Romney really connected with a group of wealthy political donors in Florida last May when he attacked those Americans who do not pay any federal income tax.  He said, "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what...who are dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that the government has a responsibility to care for them."  He concluded,  "My job is not to worry about those people.  I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility for their lives."

However, it turns out that many of the 47 percent pay payroll taxes, or are on social security.  In fact, a large share of these people are Republicans.  But Romney was just telling his audience what they long believed and wanted to hear.  Yet, now many leading Republicans are accusing the Romney campaign of incompetence.  And, just when it seemed things couldn't get worse, Romney released his 2011 tax returns, thus unleashing a whole new controversy!

Campaign gaffs have plagued Romney, who has already been dogged by his many flip-flops on important issues.  He insulted the British government while visiting the London Olympics.  In an interview with ABC News he said, “My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon.”  The very same position he has criticized President Obama for having.  He hastily criticized President Obama for a Cairo embassy statement that was released hours before that facility was attacked.  During the Republican primary he said, "Corporations are people," and "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," and "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there."

Many Republicans are upset because Romney has yet to detail his plan for fixing the economy.  Instead, Romney's campaign seems to be, "President Obama has failed, elect me and I'll fix it!"  Many conservatives were encouraged when he selected Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate.  But Romney has refused to embrace the radical Ryan budget plan, which has received broad support among conservatives.  Ryan's budget calls for more tax reductions, steep budget cuts and turning Medicare into a voucher program.  Romney's actions have confused many of his supporters and deepened their mistrust of the candidate.

Republicans are discouraged.  Their hopes of winning the White House are slipping away.  Worse for them, their hopes of winning control of the U.S. Senate are slipping away as well.  Mitt Romney's only hope appears to be a decisive victory over the president in their upcoming debates.  However, this may be a long shot for a man who once responded, "I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was."

So, if I were a Mitt Man, I might be considering Libertarian Gary Johnson.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Romney Stumbles

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”  By his definition, were he alive today, Groucho Marx could point to Mitt Romney as a perfect example!   But, no doubt many Republicans wish they could Etch A Sketch away the past six weeks of the Romney campaign.

Today many political observers characterize Romney's campaign as desperate, disoriented, erratic and lacking a budget plan.  Yet, it was suppose to be so easy.  Having won a bitterly contested Republican primary, Romney would be able to position himself as a successful "Mr. Fixit" businessman who could save the U.S. economy.  His approach was to make the 2012 presidential race a referendum on President Barack Obama's handling of the economy.  But before Romney could get out of the starting gate, the Obama campaign went after Mr. Fixit.  

Romney was co-founder and once head of Bain Capital, one of the world's leading private asset management firms.  It turns out that they succeeded in saving some businesses.  But Bain also closed several companies down, took out millions of dollars and left thousands of people without jobs, all facts that the Obama campaign relentlessly pointed out. Of course, Bain Capital's main goal is to make big profits for its investors, not to create jobs.  At the Democratic Convention, Vice President Joe Biden put it this way, “Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits. But it’s not the way to lead your country from its highest office.”

Romney said he was a successful governor of Massachusetts.   But his single biggest achievement was "Romneycare", the state's near universal health care law that was the blueprint for "Obamacare," which Romney has vowed to repeal on his first day if he is elected president.  But last week Romney said, on NBC's Meet the Press, ”Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place.  One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage."  This set off a firestorm among conservative Republicans.  Later that day, Romney's campaign again reconfirmed he was against covering people with pre-existing conditions who have not had continuous health coverage. 

At the Republican Convention, Romney was upstaged by an embarrassing endorsement from actor Clint Eastwood, who crudely spoke to an empty chair that represented President Obama.  In his tepid acceptance speech, Romney focused on biography and talking points, but offered no specifics on how he would save the economy.  And, in an inexplicable omission, Romney failed to mention the American soldiers serving in Afghanistan and around the world.

The Republican candidate, looking to further mobilize his conservative base and add some spice to the ticket, brought Representative Paul Ryan on as his running mate.  Ryan is a favorite of the right, and author of the Ryan Budget Plan.  But that plan, which was has widespread support among Congressional Republicans, calls for deep cuts in entitlements.  Under Ryan's plan, Medicare would be voucherized and Medicaid would be converted to block grants to states.  As a result, recipients would be left to personally pay for some of the quickly increasing medical costs they will face in the future.

If he embraced Ryan's plan, Romney would risk alienating many seniors, a critical demographic in many swing states.  So Romney has been distancing himself from the Ryan plan.  In an interview with CBS News, he was asked, "Are you running on [Ryan's] budget or on your budget?" Romney responded, "My budget, of course, I'm the one running for president."  Yet, Romney has failed to offer specifics for about his budget.

Romney has also failed to explain why he has parked so many of his investments in off shore accounts.  He found himself on the defensive on his personal taxes.  He has adamantly said he will release only two years of federal returns.  In his 2010 return he paid an effective rate of 13.8 percent in taxes on an income of $21.7 million.  He has not yet released his final 2011 returns, but he has estimated he will pay an effective rate of 15.4 percent on income of $20.9 million.  His taxes are certain to remain an issue heading into the election.

Romney and Ryan have little foreign policy experience, and it shows.  Candidate Romney has blustered about the Russians and the Chinese as if, to use the president's description, he is "stuck in some cold-war tie warp."  So it is no wonder he was poised to seize an opportunity to criticize the president on foreign policy.  While terrorists were attacking the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, Romney was attacking the White House for a statement released by a middle level consulate official. 

Romney's statement read, in part, "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."  Very few facts were known at this point.  In response to Romney's attack, the White House put out a statement, "We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack." 

While many Republicans were questioning Romney's judgment, the candidate was doubling down at a news conference the next day.  Republican columnist Peggy Noonan said, ""Romney looked weak today I feel, I'm still kind of absorbing it myself, at one point, he had a certain slight grimace on his face when he was taking tough questions from the reporters, and I thought, 'He looks like Richard Nixon.'"

President Obama, in an interview with 60 Minutes, said that Romney tends to "shoot first and aim later."  He continued, “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that, that, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make ‘em.”

The past few weeks have been very difficult for candidate Romney.  A just released Fox News national presidential poll shows President Obama with a 48% to 43% lead over Mitt Romney.  Perhaps Romney's actions have had an adverse impact on his campaign.  After all, you learn a lot about a person in a time of crisis.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama's Path

President Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party with a humble, values-oriented appeal to the voters who elected him in 2008.  At one point he quoted President Abraham Lincoln, "While I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'

Expectations soared when the president was elected four years ago on a campaign filled with the promise of "hope and change."   To those who may be disappointed in his first term, the president said, "Hope has been tested – by the cost of war; by one of the worst economic crises in history; and by political gridlock that’s left us wondering whether it’s still possible to tackle the challenges of our time."

Saying it wouldn't be easy, the president said this election was a choice between two visions,  "Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future."  President Obama said his opponents wouldn’t tell you their plan, except cut taxes and roll back regulations.  “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another.”  The president joked, “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”  He concluded, "We’ve been there, we’ve tried that, and we’re not going back. We’re moving forward."

The president highlighted his record of adding jobs, bailing out the auto industry, investing in education, energy, dealing with the environment, national security, and taking on the deficit.  He pointed out that his opponents have no foreign policy experience.  "After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp." the president said. " You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

The president offered an alternative, "In a world of new threats and new challenges, you can choose leadership that has been tested and proven. Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did. I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11. We have. We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014, our longest war will be over. A new tower rises above the New York skyline, al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead."   The president then thanked the U.S. military for their service in his address, a glaring oversight by Romney last week.

President Obama said he will never turn Medicare into a voucher, referring to Rep. Paul Ryan's plan.  He said he will not turn Social Security over to Wall Street.  He also said, "I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut."  The president reaffirmed his position on raising taxes on the wealthy.  And, answering a Republican theme, he said, "We don’t think government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that government is the source of all our problems – any more than are welfare recipients, or corporations, or unions, or immigrants, or gays, or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles."

President Obama's speech set out a sharp contrast with his opponents.  He humbly asked for American's support,  "If you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November."

President Obama followed powerful speeches by Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John Kerry, who was defeated in his 2004 run for President by President George W. Bush. 

The vice president spoke to the middle class and to those families who are struggling.  He identified and connected with them by relating his and President Obama's family history.  He then attacked Mitt Romney for opposing President Obama's rescue of the automobile industry.  Romney said they should be allowed to go bankrupt.  

Biden then rallied the house with his oft repeated line, "Osama bin-Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!"  He excoriated the Republican ticket on Medicare.  Saying the opposition didn't tell their audience that;  "The plan that they have already put on paper would cut for benefits for more than 30 million seniors."  He continued, "it would cause it to go bankrupt by 2016."  

On the deficit, the vice president said of the Republicans, "They didn’t tell you they rejected every plan put forward by us, or the Simpson-Bowles commission to reduce the debt."  He then jabbed Romney's talk of a "jobs tour", saying, "With his support for outsourcing it’s going to have to be a foreign trip."

He emphatically insisted "America is not in decline," and that it has never been a good bet to bet against the American people!"  In a very emotional moment, he recognized the "incredible debt we owe" the American military dead and wounded.  "We must never forget their sacrifice!"

Earlier, Senator Kerry was brutal in his criticism of Mitt Romney.  On foreign policy, he said, "He has all these neo-con advisors who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them--after all, he's the great outsourcer." Then he added, "This is not the time to outsource the job of commander in chief."

Playing off the "Are you better off?" riff that is used by Republicans, Kerry said, "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago," to a rousing ovation.  In response to Republican criticism that President Obama has let Israel down, the senator noted that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said of the U.S. under Mr. Obama's leadership, "our security cooperation is unprecedented."

Finally, in a stinging shot at Mitt Romney's failure to mention American troops in his acceptance speech, Kerry said, "No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas.'

The Democratic Convention was authentic, warm and stirring, thanks to memorable speeches by First Lady Michelle Obama, Mayor Julian Castro and President Bill Clinton.   It overshadowed last week's Republican Convention, which was short on specifics and solutions.  But will it be enough to help President Obama overcome a sluggish economy and high unemployment?   Will voters take the president at his word, "America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mendacity of Hope

The Republicans gained little momentum for their presidential ticket coming out of the GOP convention in Tampa last week.  In fact, the most memorable moment of the convention was Clint Eastwood's chat with the "Invisible Man."

One obvious conclusion is that Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan failed to offer viewers details about how they would fix the economy.  Another is that lying about your opponent's record on so many key issues may fire up your base, but it won't help win over undecided voters.   The convention's theme might have been "The Mendacity of Hope."

Now the Democrats convene in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a task of setting the record straight on the many Republican distortions, while, at the same time, offering a clear vision of how to move the nation forward.  For instance, the false claim by Republicans that the president has waived the work requirement for welfare.  In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services plan is designed to let states create alternative strategies aimed at improving employment outcomes by giving the states more flexibility, as long as they commit to increasing the number of people leaving welfare for work by 20 percent.  If states fail to reach the target the plan is terminated.

In an effort to court blue-collar white workers, the Romney campaign has been running a television ad that claims, "Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."   Yet, two Republican governors that wanted more control over work requirements originally requested the new policy from the White House, the same waiver then Governor Romney requested in 2005 along with 28 other governors.  

Republicans have also accused President Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion and hurting seniors.  But the president's actions are not cuts, they are only reductions in payments to insurance companies and health providers, and not to patients.  These are the same Medicare savings Rep. Paul Ryan called for in his budget.     

Rep. Ryan also claimed the president was responsible for the closing of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.  But GM announced the closing of the plant before President Obama was elected and before the president's auto bailout, which is credited with saving the industry.  

“It began with a perfect AAA credit rating for the United States. It ends with the downgraded America.” With those words, Rep. Ryan also blamed the president for the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.  But the credit rating was downgraded because Congress would not pass a debt-ceiling bill so the government could pay for money it had already spent.  Republicans in Congress held the debt-ceiling hostage in exchange for deep spending cuts.  They took America to the fiscal brink.  In lowering the credit rating, Standard and Poor's said, “the political brinkmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policy making becoming less stable, less effective and less predictable than what we previously believed." 

Rep. Ryan also attacked the president for his handling of the deficit.  “He created a new bipartisan debt commission,” Mr. Ryan said. “They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.”  Mr. Ryan failed to point out he served on the commission and opposed their final proposals, which included some tax increases.  His opposition was a major blow to enactment of any of its proposals.  This is the same Mr. Ryan who claimed to run a marathon in less than three hours, a remarkable feat.  Now he admits that claim is not true.  

Republicans say the president's stimulus package did not work.  Yet most economists say that the stimulus package kept America from entering a second Great Depression.  And since President Obama took office, in the depths of the Bush Recession, the U.S. economy has added more than four million private sector jobs.  Economic growth remains anemic, but the world is still in the grips of a global recession.

The president was accused of conducting an "apology tour" for U.S. foreign policy.  Yet the president has never apologized for America.  In fact, when he received his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama defended American foreign policy.  Meanwhile, the president made getting Osama bin-Laden a top priority and his policies have decimated the al-Quada terrorist organization. 

From the first day of Barack Obama's presidency Republicans, including Rep. Ryan, plotted a strategy to win back the White House in 2012.  Denounce, delay, deny, divide, and deceive.  So deep is their dislike of President Obama, that many accuse him of being a socialist, a Muslim, lying about being born in Hawaii, and about his grade point average in college.  

At their convention, Democrats must not only set the record straight on President Obama's record, they also must unite around a plan that will take this country forward.  The president must effectively communicate what he will do in a second term to reduce unemployment and rebuild the American economy.    

We are, indeed, at a crossroads.  In November, will voters reward those who will do and say anything to get elected?  Or will they side with hope and change?