Friday, July 27, 2012

Why Mitt Romney Shouldn't Even Be Taken Seriously

Fact: Mitt Romney has refused to release more than two year's tax returns.

Conjecture: What is concealed within them is more embarrassing than the steady drum beat of Republicans calling on him to make them public.

Fact: Mitt Romney began his primary campaign with an advertisement showing Obama quoting his previous rival, John McCain. Though the ad didn't make this clear, the Romney campaign defended this deception when it came out, claiming that they were trying to point out that Obama was now doing what he'd criticized McCain for doing last time around.

Conjecture: The ad made no attempt to show that Obama was doing something he'd previously criticized. Consequently, the ad is deceptive, and the campaign followed it up with another lie.

Fact: Romney has recently been using a similarly out-of-context quote to beat up on the President. Ironically, the speech Obama actually gave, pointing out that business people don't build their fortunes completely on their own, is almost a mirror image of a speech Romney gave to Olympic athletes, telling them they didn't make their way to the Olympics on their own.

Conjecture: As that Lewis Black clip points out, both candidates distort the facts and edit in ways that benefit them politically. But I can't help but think Black is making the mistake we too often make here in our polarized country, thinking that the only way to be honest is to be balanced. Even this article in Slate slamming the Republicans for their  war on facts stumbles at the gate with this bit of unsupported "balance": "Someday political scientists will try to date the decline of reasoned discourse in America to the moment when the left and the right began to invent their own facts." It then goes on to make the case that "The real end of civic discourse can be traced to the new conservative argument that facts themselves are dangerous." [Italics are theirs, bold is mine.] Romney's deception is an order of magnitude more severe and out-of-bounds than anything I've seen from the Obama campaign so far.

Fact: In 1994, Howard Stern ran for Governor in the state of New York. Though he ran on the libertarian ticket and and many questioned whether he was even serious, he did catch the public's attention and many political pundits took his candidacy seriously. Then he dropped out of the race because he didn't want to disclose his personal finances as required by law. "I spend 25 hours a week telling you all the most intimate details of my life," Stern said. "One fact I've never revealed is how much I make and how much money I have . . . it's none of your business."

Conjecture: I don't think Stern was ever serious. He's too smart a man not to have known that state law required him to divulge his finances in order to be considered, so this was an easy out for a publicity stunt, or perhaps a face-saving gesture when it became clear his candidacy wasn't viable.

Howard Stern's stunt candidacy might seem like a non sequitur, but it's not. When considering which political candidate I'll vote for, the decision-making model I like to use is that of a job interview.  This reminds me of the fact that candidates are trying to get a job, helping me separate the cult-of-personality emotional component from their reasoned arguments about their ability to perform that job's functions. It also reinforces the idea that We The People are really in charge of this country; we make the hiring decisions. Our interview panel is very large, and that complicates things, just as it does in the private sector. Sitting on a large interview panel, if I like a particular applicant but know that no one else does, I have to compromise and recognize that we may have only a few viable candidates. That's why I haven't voted for third party candidates, but I would do that rather than refusing to vote. I want to be a participant at the table. That's a professional responsibility in the hiring of an employee, and a civic responsibility in the context of an election. I may have some significant areas of disagreement with our President, but unless someone better qualified comes along, I'll do my civic duty at the ballot box.

So, has someone better come along? At this point, I'd argue no one has come along. In Mitt Romney we have a candidate who started out his campaign lying to us, then lied about lying, and is continuing to lie. It seems the media's best defense of this kind of behavior (in their continued effort to be balanced rather than honest) is to say, "Well, Obama has been somewhat deceptive in his advertisements as well." To me, that's pretty weak tea. First of all, Romney opened the gate on this kind of behavior. Second, he's been more disingenuous. To my mind, significantly more, not just picking out statistics that are true but without some qualification, but intentionally clipping soundbites to deceive the viewers of his advertisements. Third, he's applying to take someone's job. He has to show he'd be better. This doesn't mean he has to always take the high road, or that he's prohibited from criticizing his opponent, but it does mean that he can't afford to be the bigger liar when he's trying to get an interview, because the other employee has already demonstrated that he can do the job.

But this is the reason Romney really isn't an option: He refuses to fill out the whole application. When Howard Stern decided that his finances weren't going to be made public, he had the decency to drop out (or he decided he wanted to drop out and therefore didn't reveal his finances). Mitt Romney has essentially picked up a job application from our establishment, written, "It's none of your business," in a number of the fields, and then brought in the application, expecting to get an interview. I've sat on a number of interview panels, in college, in the business sector, and now in the public schools, and I can't imagine a single one overlooking an answer like that and giving the person a chance to make their case that they should have the job.

Now, I understand that there are lots of people in this country who dispute the notion that Obama has been doing his job satisfactorily. For them, the whole point of this interview process is to find someone to replace him. For some of them, anyone would be better, even an applicant who outright lies to them, then refuses to answer their interview questions. Let's not forget that the Romney campaign has been intentionally vague about specific policy proposals as well. For example, they want to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but won't describe what they want to replace it with. There will always be some distance between what politicians promise and what they can deliver, but this kind of intentional vagueness is a recipe for disaster. I can't imagine a situation in which an applicant for a position would actually do a better job, even than a bad employee, after refusing to say what he'd do better, fully explaining why he's qualified, or demonstrating that he's trustworthy. No matter how badly you think our current President has botched the job, why would you take it on faith that someone like that would do better?

Romney may reveal his tax returns. I would presuppose that they'll show nothing illegal, but plenty of things that are sketchy and even more that distances him from the common voter (those of us who have to work for money, rather than letting money work for us). At the very least, they'll put a firm number on the percentage of his income he paid in taxes, and since he's proposing to lower taxes on the wealthy, that's a legitimate interview question. But if he's not going to reveal them, calculating they are going to do more harm than good, then we all have a responsibility to remind everyone else on the interview panel that he's not even a real candidate for the job. We can listen to what he has to say for only so long, then remind him that we have a busy schedule, politely shake his hand, and see him out. As soon as the door is closed, we have to say to one another, "Remember everybody, his application is incomplete, and he won't answer our questions, so he's not even under consideration."

No comments: