Bill’s reaction: The “Mitt” documentary

Mitt_filmI watched the “Mitt” documentary. I don’t think it really changed my opinion of Mitt Romney particularly — perhaps because I’m from Massachusetts and already had a strongly held negative opinion about him rather than a vaguely negative opinion based in national media caricatures. I obviously was aware he was a person behind closed doors. That doesn’t have much to do with his bad policies and record.

What I did take away from it was how strongly Mitt Romney believed even in the moment of his (perceived) ‘surprise’ defeat that Pres. Obama was literally destroying the country in fall of “great nations” terms and believed America would reach an irreparable “tipping point” in “5 years” because of Obama’s policies. Mitt’s a relatively moderate and reasonable person, at least by comparison to most national elected Republicans these days, and even he had bought into that notion. (And in the documentary at least, a couple months earlier, Mitt and Ann were passionately discussing tax burdens on small businesses as a reason to win, rather than a perceived need to avert doomsday.) That’s pretty stunning and disturbing.

I think maybe the costs (personal, financial, emotional) of running for office have reached such intense levels that the only way you can convince yourself to keep going through it all is not only to megalomaniacally believe that only you can do the job (as most political candidates have long seemed to believe), but also that the other person will be so bad at it that it will be something the community/state/nation can’t recover from it.

In other words, to run for president these days, you can’t just have a messiah complex but a sincere conviction that the end-times are nigh. Which meshes perfectly with the presently now-mainstreamed (!) thought-currents rippling and roiling through the Republican Party. But even if it didn’t, that kind of divisive framing of campaigns is only going to fuel the toxic cycle that keeps producing worse and worse candidates and leaders at so many levels of government. There will be no good and decent people left on the campaign trail.

The smaller takeaway (as other people have observed) is: Wow, they really were delusional by the final month of the campaign and literally didn’t understand how the electoral math/map was going for them or needed to be handled. To which I would add: Can you imagine a Mitt Romney presidency if the “bubble” around him was that impervious to reality and basic structural facts that politics couldn’t alter?

Op-Ed | Donald Trump: The Democrats’ Best 2016 Asset

The essay below was co-authored with Stephan Richter, Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist, where it originally appeared.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3

Hillary Clinton’s campaign may not develop the sizzle the would-be first Madam President and her team has long planned for. But the race has already created its first, truly searing image in the skin of the American nation.

To the Democratic Party establishment’s great relief, this is not the result of any of Hillary Clinton’s missteps, of which there have been some.

Rather, the problem emerged from the inside of the tent of the Republican Party. It is commonly called the “Donald Trump problem.”

The worst part for the Republicans is that Trump has the same effect as a Trojan horse. (Beware of the “Greeks” bearing gifts, Republicans of the United States!)

Trump’s emergence in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire gives the Democrats a secret weapon to frame the race – and the entire Republican field — well before a Republican nominee emerges.

Trump’s troublesome personality characteristics and policies are essentially also true of nearly all the other Republican candidates, but nobody knows who they are and there are twenty of them. He jumped from 3% to 12% in CNN’s polling of Republican voters nationwide from May 31 to June 28. That puts him within striking distance of Jeb Bush, whose campaign is floundering.

Donald Trump’s net worth

It would be one thing if Trump’s downer effect were only that he embodies ostentatious – even offensive – wealth, far more so than Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 candidate, ever did. The comparatively reserved Romney came to symbolize the 1% class with “just” $250 million. Forbes values the flamboyant Trump at a minimum of $4.1 billion.

That also means that Trump outperforms the previous wealthiest candidate ever to seek the U.S. presidency — Ross Perot – by a factor of two. (Perot ran in 1992 as an independent against President George H.W. Bush and then-Governor Bill Clinton.)

So, he paints Republicans firmly into the corner of the money worshippers (which inoculates Hillary Clinton against similar charges).

But an ocean of money is not Trump’s only similarity to Mr. Perot. Trump represents a similar brand of nativist economic populism that is popular with a sizable chunk of American voters.

In an era where Democrats are publicly debating the economic values of their party, Trump helps divert the (rightly or wrongly) feared label of “economic populist.”

That alone would not cause Republicans a problem, were it not for the unfortunate fact that nearly all their major candidates this cycle are promoting similarly ridiculous and nativist platforms on economics, immigration and beyond.

Hillary’s man in the Republican camp

Where Trump does Hillary’s (and the Democrats’) bidding is that he is a very loud magnet for media attention. Without the Democrats trying (and leaving fingerprints), Trump highlights how not-ready-for-primetime the rest of the Republican field is.

His outrageous views on racial minorities are doubly politically problematic: First, he profits off employing “illegal” workers at construction sites.

And second, the silence of the Republican field to stand up to Trump’s race-baiting is as deafening as it is electorally deadly.
Read more

Social Impact? Deval Patrick joins Romney’s old firm

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick seems to have decisively ended speculation he had national aspirations in the Democratic Party after announcing he will be going to work for the job-slashing firm Mitt Romney founded to help rich people park their money in “good causes”:

Deval Patrick is joining the Boston investment giant Bain Capital, where the former governor will start a new line of business, directing investments in companies that produce profits but also have a positive impact on social problems. […] Patrick will help give Bain its first foothold in the growing field of “social impact” investing, tackling social problems such as hunger and climate change with for-profit investments.
[…]
During the 2012 presidential campaign, when stumping for Barack Obama against Romney, Patrick declined to join Democrats who vilified Bain and Romney’s work for the firm. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company.”
[…]
For Bain Capital, the Patrick hiring goes beyond the common practice of giving a politician a desk and a rainmaker’s role between elections. It is a way for a firm known for hard-core business deals to provide clients such as pension funds and wealthy individuals with a social outlet for their money.

 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick served from 2007 to 2015. (Photo by Scott LaPierre)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick served from 2007 to 2015. (Photo by Scott LaPierre)

This role sounds innocuous, or even positive, and perhaps it will be. But Bain in particular has a fairly nasty reputation, and the general field of “social impact investing” can be fairly shady. Instead of just using money to fix long-term problems, everything becomes a shorter-term profit-seeking investment. Many of these private sector investments aim to replace government functions (or even profit off government) and treat all the problems in profit/loss terms. Whereas a one-way donor or a government program is ostensibly acting in the public interest, all social impact investments are made in the primary interest of the shareholders or company stake-owners. Some of the money that could be re-invested into getting an even bigger impact is instead needlessly siphoned out to create a profit margin.

Moreover, I am specifically concerned because of the recent, very sketchy “social impact” investments of Goldman Sachs in the Massachusetts correctional system, when Gov. Deval Patrick was still in office, which could foreshadow the type of investments he would introduce into the Bain portfolios. Such investments are far more concrete (and financially less abstract or long-term) than amorphous goals like “hunger” and “climate change.” I wrote about them in May 2014:

Recently, in some states, Goldman Sachs has been issuing “social impact bonds,” a new financial instrument that purports to help cure social ills with Wall Street’s “help.”

In this case, they’re loaning $9 million to the state of Massachusetts to help support a Boston organization that tries to help young offenders from bouncing back into prison. (Reducing young recidivism is a good social goal, obviously, and would have a ripple effect on crime prevention.)

If the effort reduces the number of days past inmate spend back in prison — which would save the state money — the savings would go back to Goldman Sachs, up to a million dollars. If the effort really pays off (above and beyond the bond repayment terms), then the state would get to keep the money. Of course, if the effort doesn’t hit the minimum targets needed to generate enough savings, Goldman Sachs would still get interest payments on the bond, but would lose the principal loan ($9 million or however much of it couldn’t be repaid due to insufficient savings).

As private investments in the prison industry go, it’s not the worst thing in the world. At least the profit incentive is toward rehabilitation rather than toward further imprisonment in the way privatized prisons are. But the question is why is it even necessary to involve the private sector middleman in the first place?

The state could pay for the upfront cost of the program through tax revenues (if it were willing to raise taxes, of course), instead of taking a loan, it would keep all the money and not end up paying Wall Street no matter how things turn out. That money could be reinvested into expanding the successful efforts even more, thus benefiting all taxpayers.

In my opinion, the job of corrections and the rehabilitation of young offenders is part of the role of government. The private sector is free to help, but it should be an add-on to the process, not a redundant profit diversion mechanism in the middle.

 
Another problem is the issue of emphasizing data-driven decision-making in government. The profit motive strengthens this trend much faster, even though government is often meant to be performing roles that could not be profitably well executed by the private sector and remain profitable. The data-driven policymaking favored by such approaches presents a false objectivity in place of really subjective questions: Read more

We have Romney to kick around again

I don’t like “horserace”-style presidential campaign coverage — especially almost two years out — but I’m always happy to link to killpieces (like thinkpieces, but intended to kill a bad presidential campaign in its infancy). That’s especially true if it’s Romney. I was hoping we’d never have Romney “to kick around anymore”, but seeing as we do, I’m duty-bound — as a Massachusetts native who remembers his unpleasant tenure as governor — to do so.

Pictured: Rep. Paul Ryan and former Gov. Mitt Romney announcing their Republican ticket in August 2012.

Pictured: Rep. Paul Ryan and former Gov. Mitt Romney announcing their Republican ticket in August 2012.

Let’s begin with “Only Romney Thinks He’s Reagan” by Jonathan Bernstein:

Between Reagan’s first (1968) and second (1976) presidential runs, he went from being an inexperienced governor who had given an impressive speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964 to being a successful two-term governor who continued to consolidate his position as leader of the conservative movement. Then, in the run-up to his third try in 1980, Reagan remained the clear conservative leader. A real, influential leader: His attack on the Panama Canal treaties, for example, made opposition to them the standard conservative position.

In other words, Reagan didn’t just get better at running for president. He was a much more impressive politician with far more accomplishments by 1980 than he had been in 1968.

Romney? Not so much.

He first ran for president as a successful one-term governor, although he had to repudiate much of what he had done when he moved to the national stage. He ran for president a second time as a successful one-term governor. He is now running for president yet again as … a successful one-term governor.

 
It’s also super unclear how his campaign is necessary to the country, to the party, or to anyone. In his head, of course, he fancies himself a necessary savior of the nation and all mankind (so do most presidential candidates or they wouldn’t go through the massive trouble of running). But besides the lack of burnished credentials noted by Bernstein, above, the continual flip-flopping and see-sawing on the party spectrum is going to be ever-harder to explain away to voters of all stripes.

Romney ran as a conservative (away from his record and rhetoric as governor) in 2008 against McCain, but then he ran as the generally electable moderate-but-still-“severely conservative” alternative to the lunatic fringe in 2012. And now, according to Buzzfeed, he’s apparently aiming to run as the right-wing alternative to Jeb Bush, whose record is pretty right-wing on its own for a so-called “moderate” (without having to artificially position himself as such), and against whom an array of convincingly hardline conservatives have already arrayed themselves.

“Look, Jeb’s a good guy. I think the governor likes Jeb,” the adviser said. “But Jeb is Common Core, Jeb is immigration, Jeb has been talking about raising taxes recently. Can you imagine Jeb trying to get through a Republican primary? Can you imagine what Ted Cruz is going to do to Jeb Bush? I mean, that’s going to be ugly.”

 
Hard to see where there’s a place for Romney in this race. And nobody in the field seems to be budging, so far, in fear of him. Other suggestions, such as the notion that Romney wants to run on an “anti-poverty” platform this year, can only induce hysterical laughter in the American people. The Democrats wouldn’t even have to cut new ads — they could just re-run the effective old ones, from barely two years ago, quoting people laid off by his slash-and-burn, debt-heavy corporate “turnarounds.”

They say the only polls that matter are the ones held on election days. Consistently, however, those have shown that America doesn’t want Mitt Romney to be president. And in the bigger picture, the Romney family really is quite incompetent at running for high office, and it’s not getting better for them.

Thanks, Obama: Crimea Edition

I’ve noticed that the U.S. conservatives — including sore losers John McCain and Mitt Romney, but also many many others — who are pounding their fists and tearing their hair over the Obama’s Administration’s purportedly pitiful, pathetic, terrible, underwhelming, horrible, ineffective (etc) response to the Crimea takeover … have been conspicuously careful not to call outright for a military conflict with Russia over the matter.

Can anyone point out where in all their literal lip-curling displays of disgust at the President that they have suggested anything substantive that would be a better response, in their eyes? I think I’ve seen vague mentions of bringing Ukraine et al into NATO (which I think is a terrible idea), but otherwise I can’t think of anything I’ve seen them suggesting as an alternative to the administration’s course of action. 

Update, 9:30 PM:
David W. Wise has an excellent new article in The Globalist (my employer, though I was not involved in editing it) on the same question I posed above: “Why Crimea Is Not the Product of U.S. Weakness”

It is currently fashionable in Republican circles and in cable TV talk shows to argue that, first, President Obama’s foreign policy projected an aura of weakness, which was then, second, exploited by President Putin with aggressive and illegal moves in Crimea.

The problem with this narrative is that, while convenient, it is also patently untrue. Russia in general and Putin in particular, operate under the power politics rules of international affairs. They will thus act according to perceived threats to the security interests of the Russian state.

Unless President Obama had been willing to use military force, an ill-advised course, there was probably nothing the United States could have done to deter Putin’s actions in Crimea once Ukrainian President Yanokovych was deposed and had departed.
[…]
Let us […] go back a few years to 2008 when Bush, Cheney and the neoconservatives were in power. They talked tough and backed it up in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also abrogated the ABM treaty and ramped up defense spending.

Yet, in 2008 the same President Putin who recently sent unmarked troops into Ukraine did something as unsavory. He invaded Georgia to within miles of its capital and recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgia regions.

And yet, the Republicans – with their emphasis on an always muscular foreign policy – stood by relatively idly. Did Republicans think that Putin acted out of anything other than his cold-blooded calculation of Russia’s interest? Or did they believe then that the Bush/Cheney team’s “weakness” invited Putin’s action in Georgia?

No, they didn’t. But evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office. That may be effective politics, but hardly adds up to a serious policy argument.

 
Wise also discusses at length how Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s pushes to expand NATO into the former Russian imperial heartland made Russia feel threatened, encircled, and under siege — something I discussed previously. Their reactions now can arguably seen as new defensive measures against exactly the aggressive American hawkishness John McCain and others have advocated.

Russia’s present course may partially be an effort to restore a defensive buffer zone around Russia itself, much as the larger Soviet Union insisted on indirectly occupying East Germany and much of Eastern Europe to prevent a third total war homeland invasion that century.

But, again, as Wise notes, much of the criticism has nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with the occupant of the White House: “evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office.”

In particular, we know exactly where John McCain’s criticisms stem from. If it were just about Russia he wouldn’t speak with such audible disdain and disrespect for the president. He was doing that long before it was about Crimea.

Romney is not a winning dynasty

The New York Times decided to write about Mitt Romney’s other parent’s ill-fated political campaign, and how that defeat also influenced him. It also mentioned another relative who was unsuccessful in a campaign. Which brought to my mind the following revelation: Come to think of it, who thought Mitt was going to be a good candidate anyway? Considering how many Romneys there are across North America, how many have had successful political careers in the United States?

Turns out they’re quite good at business and they’re even pretty good at getting elected to state legislatures (perhaps by buying them easily), but they’re not so good at politics above that level. Here’s what I found, with some digging through Wikipedia, for statewide offices…

Miles Romney Sr.: MT Governor — Defeated 3x in primaries
L.C. Romney: 1956, UT Governor — Defeated
*George W. Romney: 1962, MI Governor — Successfully elected
George W. Romney: 1964, Presidential — Favorite son convention candidate, defeated
*George W. Romney: 1964, MI Governor — Successfully re-elected
George W. Romney: 1968, Presidential — Dropped out
Lenore Romney: 1970, MI US Senate — Defeated
Mitt Romney: 1994, MA US Senate — Defeated
Ronna Romney: 1994, MI US Senate — Defeated in primary
Ronna Romney: 1996, MI US Senate — Defeated
Scott Romney: 1998, MI Atty. Gen. — Defeated at convention
*Mitt Romney: 2002, MA Governor — Successfully elected
Mitt Romney: 2006, MA Governor — Declined to seek re-election
Mitt Romney: 2008, Presidential — Dropped out
Mitt Romney: 2012, Presidential — Struggling to win nomination against weak field (Editor’s note: Mitt Romney subsequently won the nomination but lost the general election.)

Despite their amassed wealth and sheer number of family members they keep spamming at the ballot boxes of the American people, Mitt’s just the latest of a family of chronic political losers, isn’t he?