Monday, October 8, 2012

Travels In Mitt-Land

Travels In Mitt-Land

If you happened to be out of the country last week, in a place that had no fax, phone, TV, radio, or Internet (or even twitter), you missed the complete demolition derby that was the first Presidential Debate.

Mitt demolished Barack.  Mr. Obama committed no gaffes, except perhaps showing up.  He also barely showed a pulse, much less put up a credible argument.  The carnage was so bad that the video may have to be rated R, it being too cruel to be shown to children.

If we were to go through every missed opportunity, every failed or inadequate response, we would merely be taking a rake to already well-ploughed ground. Obama has been torched by everyone, from the gleeful Right, to the despairing Left, and everyone in between.  That Romney flipped on positions merely a few weeks old, and sometimes simply lied, is completely immaterial. 

If you look at Intrade, as of the date of this writing, Mr. Obama is still deemed to have an edge on Mr. Romney, as does the Iowa Electronic Markets, but the national polls seem to show otherwise-most are even and a Pew Poll gives Romney a lead.  The wisest commentators and analysts now seem to think Mr. Romney will win, and the question is not so much if, but the size of the margin.  There is also the question of the impact down-ballot, Senate, House, and various state positions.  With the rout that occurred in 2010, the GOP now stands poised to attain the power to impose their will at most state levels and across the Federal spectrum. By this time next year, we have a very good chance to enacted see what are now merely wild fantasies of the Right.

But really, what is the golden land that Romney will be leading us to?  Is it Akin-Land, a place where women are delicate little flowers who need a man’s guidance (when they are not being temptresses)? Is it Bachmann-Land, redolent with the pungent odor of paranoia? Maybe it’s Newt’s Moon base, a place of big ideas and no Social Security?  Santorum-Land, with its Hester Prynne-inspired social policy?  Or maybe it’s the world of Congressman Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, and a member of the House Science Committee, who said that evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

All these people are part of the gorgeous mosaic that is the modern Republican Party, but I don’t think they define Mitt-Land. The Akins, and Bachmanns, and Newts, and Ricks, are merely part of the means to carry us to Mitt-Land; they are not their ends.  And, they will be repaid for the efforts, in script that Mitt doesn’t care about: social issues and small-minded things like killing off Big Bird.  But they don’t drive Mitt.   

That is because Mitt-Land is a place without an ideology beyond money, power, and influence.  Mitt-Land is the Shangri-La of the aristocracy.  Mitt, regardless of what he says in the debate, will deliver for his people.  The rest of us, whether we know it or not, are just along for the ride.

Thomas Donlan, in his Editorial Commentary for Barron’s, has written two superb pieces over the last several weeks.  In the first, “Where the Money is.” he correctly points out that real tax reform requires the closing of every single loophole, preference, subsidy, etc.  Politicians use the tax code to coddle those they like, and punish those they don’t.   They like homeownership, so we have a mortgage deduction.  They like private equity, so we have “carried interest” and special treatment of capital gains.  More than a third of the revenue that would be collected under today’s nominal tax rates is given back to favored taxpayers.

That, of course, is the dirty little secret of Mitt’s tax returns.  It’s not that he cheated.  He pays lower taxes because he qualifies for most favored nation treatment, and believes he, and people like him, are entitled to it.  Friends of Mitt may gussie it up with synthetic terms like “job creators”, or rail against needless government regulation, but at the end of the day, they are our aristocrats, and they expect it.   That might sound unkind, but it is true.  200 plus years of being catered to has done nothing to disavail them of that notion.

Of course, Mitt’s people are not the only ones who are entitled.  So is the public sector worker who goes out on full disability while playing golf five times a week.  Or the oil company taking billions in subsidies.  Or the recipients of Social Security and Medicare, receiving benefits far in excess of the taxes paid in.  Or the owner of a professional sports team, with his hand in the taxpayer pocket for a new stadium and infrastructure.  The two parties may pick their sides, but in the end, it is still the same thing-moving money around.  And more and more, it’s moving borrowed money around.  Neither party, and neither candidate, is truly willing to try omnibus structural reforms at a time we desperately need it. And, if you haven't noticed it, not one single peep about making hard choices at the last debate.  Everyone would continue to get everything they did before, none more, none less, but through some alchemy, the pot would grow.

As Donlan puts it in “The Not So Great Debate”

“Those who listened attentively could understand that President Barack Obama believes in the ability of government to invest our money for future growth and the well-being of citizens, especially those who did not start off with lots of natural or parental advantages. It was equally clear that challenger Mitt Romney believes in the ability of citizens to manage their own affairs, as long as government stays out of the way, except to pick up the pieces.”

There’s really not all that much difference, is there?  Whether it’s Granny, or Goldman Sachs, the taxpayer will cover them.  It’s just a question of managing the extremes.

So, where is Mitt-Land?  Well, I had the chance to travel there recently.  In my day job, I am an attorney.  I was involved in a modestly complicated transaction involving several parties. In connection with it, we all met in a conference room in a lovely town listed in Forbes “America's Most Expensive ZIP Codes.”  Needless to say, I wore a nice suit and my best shoes, freshly shined.  Everyone was very cordial, lunch was offered and ordered, all very comme il faut.  One of other attorneys at the table informally mentioned how well he and I had worked together, often in the evenings, even to the point of emailing me during the debate to rib me.  He said he was a Romney supporter.  There was brief moment of quiet as seven exceeding well-groomed heads set on seven exceedingly well-dressed torsos swiveled in my direction. 

A Democrat?  I swallowed my Diet Coke.

That was Mitt-Land.  Should I have offered to have the upholstery cleaned?