Mitt Keeps Digging

First, Mitt Romney chose to join Islamic extremists in attacking the US government on the anniversary of 9/11. Then he was caught on video writing off nearly half the country for being dependent on government handouts. Next, in an interview he said working-class Americans could get health care by showing up at their local hospital’s emergency room. As the presidential race entered the final six weeks, the most amazing thing was that there is still a race.

Romney’s campaign has been stumbling since Aug. 30, when the candidate got upstaged at his own nominating convention by Clint Eastwood’s rambling harangue of an empty chair. But Mitt’s week from hell started on Sept. 11, when he seized the opportunity to show his foreign policy chops by criticizing the Obama administration’s reaction to violent protests at the US embassy in Egypt and a consulate in Libya, which resulted in the death of Obama’s ambassador to Libya, an aide and two security personnel. Even many Republicans thought Romney was out of line when he falsely suggested that the Obama administration was sympathetic to the violent Muslim protests. Then, on Sept. 17, Mother Jones magazine released a secretly recorded video of Romney speaking frankly to high-dollar donors in Boca Raton, Fla.

In the following week, 60 Minutes aired an interview in which Romney, apparently aware that there was a camera this time, adopted the right-wing talking point that poor people without insurance could get health care as long as the local ER is open and he also said it was fair for him to pay a tax rate of just 14.1% on his investment income of $20 million, when a worker earning $50,000 a year in wage income pays a higher rate.

If you think Mitt looks bad when he tells lies, apparently getting caught telling the truth doesn’t endear him to the voters either.

Obama appears to be pulling away in the swing states, but many national polls still show Romney with support in the mid-40s and within the margin of error from Obama. Republicans still hope that Romney can turn the campaign around in the debates. In the meantime, the big unknown is how many of those people who think they’ll vote for Obama actually will be allowed to cast their ballots, as Republicans are trying to implement voter suppression bills in a dozen states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that will let them steal the election if they can’t win it fair and square.

Voters have been told by the corporate media that Obama does not deserve re-election if he does not get the unemployment rate below 8%. Progressives should not accept that framing, which is based on the observation that no president since World War II has won re-election with an unemployment rate higher than 7.2%. But only two presidents — Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — ran with rates higher than 7.2% on their records and their losses are not entirely due to that factor.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post noted Sept. 14 that if you go back to 1900, three incumbent parties have won with unemployment higher than 7.2%. Republicans held onto the White House in 1908 (William Howard Taft succeeding fellow Republican Theodore Roosevelt) despite an unemployment rate higher than 8%. Then, Franklin Roosevelt won re-election in 1936 and 1940 with unemployment well into the teens.

Of all the elections in the 20th Century in which the unemployment rate was above 7.2% (an arbitrary level at which Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984), incumbents won 3 of 7 races.

The important issue for voters should be which direction the unemployment rate is headed and what the candidates plan to do about it. When FDR took office in 1933, the Depression had put nearly one-fourth of American adults out of work. By 1936, with the help of stimulus programs such as the Works Progress Administration, unemployment had dropped to 16.6%, and Roosevelt won re-election. It was down to 14.6% in 1940, when FDR won a third term because voters trusted him.

When Obama took office, unemployment was 7.8% but the economy was still in free fall from George W. Bush’s watch and the rate was already 8.3% during Obama’s first full month in office in February 2009. He signed the $787 billion economic stimulus on Feb. 17, 2009, which increased federal spending for health care, provided tax breaks and incentives for businesses, provided additional assistance for the unemployed and sent aid to the states for public works projects and to keep government workers and schoolteachers on the payroll. In March 2009 Obama renewed loans that allowed GM and Chrysler to continue operations while reorganizing. The unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 but as the stimulus kicked in and the car industry recovered, the economy has stabilized and the unemployment rate has dropped slowly since then, to 8.1% in August. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported 30 straight months of private employment gains through August although Republicans have blocked efforts to pass a jobs bill to spur more economic activity.

Romney admitted in his secretly-taped meeting in Boca Raton last spring that he had no special plans to revive the economy. He is a great example of the fallacy of believing that a successful businessman would make a good leader of government. He made his millions by using other people’s money to buy struggling companies, outsourced manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries where possible and sold off assets for salvage. It is possible for a predatory capitalist with few apparent principles but plenty of financial backing to make profits if he doesn’t care what happens to his employees or the community, but that doesn’t mean he’d make a good president.

It’s not too early to worry that moderate Democrats might fall for a “grand bargain” on reducing the debt that could threaten Social Security and/or Medicare. A group of 28 Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), on Sept. 20 took a strong stand against any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal.

“We will oppose including Social Security cuts for future or current beneficiaries in any deficit reduction package,” the senators said in a letter circulated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), founder of the Senate Defending Social Security Caucus.

In addition to Reid, Schumer and Sanders, signers included Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

Social Security has not contributed to deficits because it has a dedicated funding stream that has built up a $2.7 trillion surplus so that it is able to pay benefits for the next 21 years. Workers and employers each pay half of a 12.4% payroll tax on the first $110,100 of a worker’s wages. The tax rate for employees was reduced to 4.2% in 2011, but is scheduled to return to 6.2% in January.

If your senators are not on that list, ask them why. The only acceptable “reform” of Social Security is to lift the cap on taxable wages to guarantee benefits for the foreseeable future.

Also remind your senators that any reduction in Medicare benefits is unacceptable. Nearly all Republicans already are on the record in favor of Paul Ryan’s proposal to change Medicare into a voucher program that would phase out guaranteed benefits. Democratic senators need to know that any who support a Social Security or Medicare “fix” that increases the eligibility age and/or reduces benefits will earn them a primary challenger. —JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2012



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