Yesterday was a been a rather remarkable day of news in the Magical World of Mitt Romney. Let’s review a bit:
Mitt Romney assured a newspaper reporter that he had no intentions to push anti-abortion legislation, then had his campaign call up anti-abortion groups to tell them that no, he was really on their side … and explained the discrepancy by claiming he thought the question “do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion” was actually about the economy.
He said it would be best if employees could choose to get an insurance policy that covered birth control or not, but has also endorsed the Blunt Amendment, which demands employers get to decide the issue regardless of employee wishes. No word yet on how these two positions are supposed to be reconciled, other than screw-you-for-asking-that.
He explained to CNN that his tax cut plan, which looks extremely damn similar to the plan pushed by George W. Bush, to dismal effect, would not balloon the deficit like most sentient humans believe, because the magical growth fairy would make sure that did not happen.
He changed his mind on abortion yet again, now asserting that he’d “immediately remove funding for Planned Parenthood” because of their abortion ties.
Oh, and he also continued to reference a Navy SEAL who was killed in Libya during his stump speeches, despite the SEAL’s mother publicly asking him yesterday to stop—but then his campaign promised he would stop, after the media started asking about it, and he complained that the press was biased towards Obamacare, which seems to be a pipe dream, but meh, those are just average Mitt days. That last one does seem to indicate that his his campaign’s policy of not whining about media bias is no longer in effect, but in Mitt’s defense, I’m not sure I can name any date when it was.
I’ve been seeing people say that the Big Bird issue is played out; Mitt himself has said as much, too, sniffily claiming that Obama cares more about Big Bird than about jobs, which is a very Mitt thing to say. But here’s the thing: Mitt brought it up. It was supposed to be, I think, the typical version of a Mitt joke, in which Mitt Romney opines not that he would simply get rid of PBS, but specifically that he would fire beloved children’s character Big Bird, by name. In a debate that consisted of almost no actual specifics, it stood out for being one of the few concrete, recognizable policy promises in a sea of bland generalities and rhetoric-driven nothings. Not merely PBS, but the person right in front of Mitt, the debate’s moderator—and Big Bird. That was the policy detail Mitt Romney chose to take a stand on, in a night that saw few others. That was the one piffling government savings Mitt Romney could name, while the mechanics of loophole-closing and deduction-nixing that would make his signature tax cut plan work are, still, left entirely unspecified. We have on one hand the promise of five trillion in tax cuts; as balance, we have, so far, Big Bird. Big Bird, Jim Lehrer, and now, apparently, Planned Parenthood. Those are the precious few specifics we have been granted, so it is hardly surprising that anyone would focus on them. There’s nothing else to focus on, after all.
The Big Bird reference was characteristic Romney in every possible way. It was, apparently, supposed to be a witty remark, but like many of his witty remarks (“I like to fire people”) seems to stem from a mean premise. It represented budget tokenism that conservatives are fond of as dog whistle, but has a budgetary effect so small as to need multiple decimal places to even express. It singled out a government program that, when invoking Big Bird explicitly, is of primary benefit to the utterly powerless (children, in this case), citing it as a necessary sacrifice in order to accomplish the goals of the powerful (wealthy Americans and their tax cuts.) It was simultaneously pointless, vapid, and mean—the Mitt Romney trifecta. If the reaction to it resonated, that would be why. We have waited for a year for the candidate to flesh out even the barest detail on how he would govern, and what we are given, in his own words, is that he would fire Big Bird. That is self-caricature.
Mitt Romney gets into deep trouble whenever he mentions specifics, which is probably why he goes to such lengths to avoid them. Often it is because he misrepresents the truth; other times, it is because his specifics are either unpopular, pointless or both. His abortion rhetoric is this dynamic taken to the extreme, where he seems perfectly willing to take opposing positions on an issue within the same day, depending on the audience, and his campaign really does not give a particular damn if the entire country knows he’s taking both sides of the issue. This is not one candidate evolving from one position to another over the span of a decade—this is a candidate who can happily claim both positions at the same time, and if you have a problem with that it is only because the liberal media is biased against him in some way. When he does have a position—say, that the government needs to get Big Bird off the government dime, because that zero point zero zero zero one-th of the federal budget is too great a burden to bear—it is absolutely impossible to tell whether he actually believes that thing is one of the few details in the nation worthy of said mention, or is pointless word salad meant only to please some small set of crackpots that his campaign has identified as needing more pleasing. The frequency with which these small things come and go, however, would not seem to indicate Mitt Romney himself has any personal convictions towards them.
There has been only two constants of the Romney campaign, and The Tax Cut is by far the most omnipresent of the two. It is the tax cut for “job creators”, by which he means people who make enough money to have people working for them, and not necessarily for anyone else. On healthcare, his position is that Obamacare is both good and bad, to be “repealed” and “replaced” with something apparently both identical and not. On foreign policy, he went from having none to speak of to a cut-and-paste neocon version cribbed from the Bush masters of the same—while simultaneously being able to name very little that Obama has done that he would not. Even the constant rhetorical nods towards deregulation have been so unspecific as to be pointless—except with regards to his own industry, Wall Street. Now that industry he is certain he would like to see less regulated. That industry has an apparent enemy that can be mentioned by name—Dodd-Frank—and so gutting Dodd-Frank has managed to squeeze in as constant number two, in that unending rain of campaign fluff about (usually) nothing in particular.
It is not surprising, given all this, that the public opinion of Mitt Romney has been so low. The only modes of Mitt seem to be saying either something pointlessly mean (rain gear, cookies, Big Bird), awkwardly privileged (sports team owners) or saying nothing at all. If the only two constants are that Mitt Romney’s social class needs to pay less taxes, and that Mitt Romney’s business associates need to face fewer American laws, then that sounds remarkably like the platform of a bonafide grifter. An upper class grifter, to be sure, but a fine example of a self-centered, cash-oriented, ethically-challenged, empathically-challenged grifter. Politicians often are suspected of conflicting interests, but Mitt Romney is a special case; Mitt Romney’s financial interests and political promises are one and the same. There’s not a feather’s worth of conflict between them.
So we’ve got Mitt the liar, Mitt the awkward, Mitt the panderer, Mitt the flip-flopper, Mitt the privileged, and the Mitt of high finance, the Mitt whose only constant campaign policies consist of various reasons Mitt Romney deserves a tax cut. The people in his particular industry, finance, deserve special tax treatment. People who have money in the places he has money, like the Cayman Islands, deserve new rules to better free their money. There needs to be less disclosure on the sort of things people like Mitt Romney do, and Mitt is happy to personally fight for that rule by disclosing next to nothing himself and telling you that next to nothing is good enough.
I don’t actually believe Mitt Romney has an opinion on abortion, no. I also don’t believe he has a position on foreign policy, or on health care, or on (most) deregulation, or on environmental concerns or anything else. I believe his opinions on each thing are negotiated things, determined by how each one can best be used as bargaining chip for the tax cuts and financial rule-fiddling that constitute his only constant goals, and that how Mitt Romney would govern can be best approximated by presuming exactly that. Other people might call Romney the aspirational president of the One Percent, but I think even that might be giving this man and his whisper-thin convictions a bit too much credit. From what I’ve seen, Mitt Romney is primarily interested in becoming the president of the one.