Political Animal


December 07, 2011 1:00 PM What in the world is Romney talking about?

By Steve Benen

In presenting a fairly detailed picture of his economic worldview, President Obama explained yesterday that “the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and a standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.”

And yet, there was Mitt Romney this morning, claiming that the president longs for some kind of dreary, Soviet-style economic oppression for America’s future.

“[Obama] seeks to replace our merit-based society with an entitlement society. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people to enjoy truly disproportionate rewards are the people who do the redistributing — the government.

“Entitlement societies are praised in academic circles, far removed from the reality of a competitive world. Opportunity is replaced by the certainty that everyone in an entitlement society will enjoy nearly the same rewards. But there is another certainty: they will be poor.

“In an entitlement society, the invigorating pursuit of happiness is replaced by the deadening reality that there is no prospect of a better tomorrow.”

From time to time, political observers get stuck in a debate for which there is no clear answer: are Republicans like Romney liars or fools? I don’t know Romney personally, and I can’t read his mind, so I can’t speak to which of the options is true in this case.

I can, however, say that if Romney actually believes such idiocy, reports of his competence have been greatly exaggerated.

There is simply nothing in reality to suggest the president accepts as true the radical beliefs Romney ascribes to him. Indeed, no Democratic official anywhere in the country would accept such an extremist agenda that would promise identical economic circumstances to all people.

As Jon Chait put it, “This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money. Yet this absurd claim is so common nobody even thinks to challenge it anymore.”

The problem, I suspect, is that Romney lacks the courage and strength necessary to have a credible debate over economic policies. Such a debate requires honesty, an understanding of the basics, and a willingness to be consistent and principled — and given Romney glaring character flaws, he simply lacks the integrity to engage in such a discussion.

Obama presented an important approach to the economy yesterday, one with a pedigree that rests in giants from both parties over the last century. Americans would benefit from a spirited, substantive response from leading Republican voices, and it’s a genuine shame Romney’s cowardice keeps him from being up to the task.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • Ron Byers on December 07, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Honest debates are hard for everybody including the audience. Romney doesn't have any interest in doing anything hard.

  • GregInMa on December 07, 2011 1:09 PM:

    "are Republicans like Romney liars or fools?"


    Wasn't that easy?

  • Ron Byers on December 07, 2011 1:14 PM:

    I want people to remember that people watching Fox News or reading the Wall Street Journal will never hear Obama's speech. They will never know the truth. What Romney says conforms to Fox News reality.

    What Obama actually said is alien to the average Fox News junky. What Romney is saying fights right in to the averag Fox News world view.

  • Ron Byers on December 07, 2011 1:16 PM:

    "fits" not "fights." Damn I wish I could revise my comments.

  • Chris on December 07, 2011 1:19 PM:

    Entitlement society? Academic circles are far removed from the reality of a competitive world?

    This is Romney trying to show Republican primary voters that, with regard to rhetoric, he can out-Gingrich Newt Gingrich.

  • Eeyore on December 07, 2011 1:22 PM:

    This fits the Romney campaign pattern of taking something the President has NOT said ("apologize for America, entitlement society") or twist what he DID say ("If we run on the economy, we'll lose") and set it up as a straw person to beat down.

    I suppose next Romney will say "President Obama is for forcing successful wealth creators to abort their children." And half of the Faux News audience will believe it.

  • Danp on December 07, 2011 1:23 PM:

    I think Romney's relevance has gone past its expiration date. We may as well accept Gingrich as the new stink.

  • Joe Buck on December 07, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Romney's people openly say that they are engaged in agitprop. They are not fools. They would claim that they are not lying either, just skating close to the edge. But they do what they do because the media allow them to.

    I am puzzled as to why you think this is even a question. Of course they know better. They are sociopaths who will do what it takes to win, and to the extent that Democratic policy wonks don't understand this, you will be dead meat. They will kill you and laugh at you.

  • jjm on December 07, 2011 1:25 PM:

    The GOP candidates are tired hacks. They think they can say something and make it so. And they think they can rely on their tried and true accusations of 'socialism' 'communism' 'anti-capitalism' 'class warfare' etc. to carry the day. The only 'new' things they can think up to 'criticize' Obama for are 1) made up fantasies (foreigner, apologist, blah blah blah) or 2) for doing things like --get a load of this! -- revealing that he got Osama bin Laden [Santorum before a Jewish republican audience. He was rebutted by, of all people, Ari Fleischer.]

    Romney is right along with the rest of this deeply boring crowd of non-starters. The only fame they have is from the press focusing on them right now -- in its total amnesia the press makes them almost seem coherent, but ultimately even the manipulative and manipulated press cannot make a silk purse out of the sow's ears that this bunch of shallow phonies are.

    They haven't a clue about the pulse of the nation right now; they're working over a 50 year old corpse of a set of 'talking points' that no longer resonate with anyone but themselves.

  • booch221 on December 07, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Poor old Flip Romney. His campaign is crashing and burning. In Iowa he's tied with Ron Paul. He's getting desperate.

  • bleh on December 07, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Concur with most of above. Plus, regarding the text quoted, it looks to me like nothing more than code-words wrapped in a loose and unimportant narrative.

    "Entitlement," "earned ... redistributed," "academic," these all look to me like "eggheads want to take your hard-earned money and give it to lazy black people," which happens to be a central theme for a wide swath of Republicans, especia;;y in the South and Midwest.

  • jb on December 07, 2011 1:32 PM:

    Romney is guilty as charged. He should be sentenced to two weeks in Sweden.

  • tomb on December 07, 2011 1:33 PM:

    Just reflecting on the biography of the two men:
    Obama, raised by a single mom and grandmother in challenging financial conditions yet through perseverance and his own intelligence, graduated from Harvard and has since gone on to become president.

    Romney, born into privilege and has spent his lifetime protecting the privileged class of Americans.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on December 07, 2011 1:37 PM:

    Do you think Romney will try again in 2016?
    Just Askin'

  • Kathryn on December 07, 2011 1:38 PM:

    @Ron Byers, you are correct, the alternate universe is onboard and Romney is speaking their language. I know people with whom I have much in common until politics enters the pictures, who are in the thrall of Rush Limbaugh. In all honesty, I cannot understand how people who I consider or,once considered reasonable, can listen to and find that mean spirited, fat bigot credible and often amusing. I find I no longer have much desire to spend time with them, which might be the wrong approach but an email correcting (nicely) an erroneous statement was met with silence, so I guess it's mutual.

    IMO, Mitt Romney is an unprincipled hack and Newt Gingrich a circus clown and perfect fit for Donald Trump.

  • drkrick on December 07, 2011 1:50 PM:

    Don't overlook this whopper: "our merit-based society."

    To describe a society where wealth and position are as path dependent and inheritance based as ours as based on merit is as big a distortion as the line of sucker bait he's trying to peddle about Obama.

  • Zorro on December 07, 2011 2:08 PM:

    This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money.

    But wait... isn't that the #1 plank in the GOP's platform?


  • FlipYrWhig on December 07, 2011 2:11 PM:

    If you wanted a credible messenger for the idea of a "merit-based society," you could probably do a mite better than a guy who is a legacy in both politics and business. His whole life is a testament to privilege -- and has there ever been a politician who oozes "entitlement" quite like Mitt Romney?

  • Josef K on December 07, 2011 2:12 PM:

    Do you ever get the feeling the Republican 'candidates' are trying to throw the 2012 election? Or at least the Presidential ticket?

  • marnie on December 07, 2011 2:12 PM:

    For proof of Romney's a..holery look no further than Obamacare which left the insurance companies in the competative loop and which ignored the wishes of the majority of the electorage that wanted universay health care sans insurance companies.

  • biggerbox on December 07, 2011 2:15 PM:

    NPR this morning, serving in their role as propaganda catapult, played a clip of Mitt expressing his shock and surprise that the President had not provided a vision for how to get the economy going again (despite the fact that he has, many times, and the GOP has been actively thwarting it.)

    NOW, however, Mitt seems to be claiming that the President HAS produced a vision of where he wants the country to go, and it's some deadening socialistic oppression!

    Mitt's such a flip-flopper he's moved beyond merely flipping between positions on real-world policies and is now flip-flopping about the imaginary positions he claims Obama has taken! Wow!

    The man has talent.

  • Another Steve on December 07, 2011 2:21 PM:

    Personally, I think the problem is that Romney really, truly just doesn't believe anything except that Mitt Romney should have more. No ideology, no particularly firm moral convictions, no overarching economic POV, not even a belief in empirical data. Just Mitt and Mitt's belief that Mitt should have more. More money, more achievements, more recognition, more power. More stuff to fill the big nonrefillable empty hole inside him.

    And that's not just a character thing, it's policy problem, a serious barrier to being a non-fuckup as president.

    Because the president's job is to choose between evils. That's mostly what they do. The only decisions that percolate up the bureaucracy to the president's desk are the hard ones. Day after day, they go in to the Oval, read the daily intel briefing, work in a photo opp with some scouts or a sports team or a heroic fire fighter, and then it's on to several hours of being presented with shitty choices, either choices where it's not clear which is worse or choices where the best one has an outcome that is so bad, they end up on the desk where the buck stops. Then they leave the Oval, eat dinner with the spousal unit and the kids (if they're in the house) and then sit down with great big three ring binders full of stuff they have to read in the hope they can get some clue about which choice is bad and which is worse.

    And that's a problem for Mittens, because he simply has no basic core beliefs he can go to for assistance in the nearly impossible job of a president to decide which evil is the lesser. Faced with a new policy problem, Governor Romney at least had his Senate aspirations to tell him what to do--do what he thought John Kerry would do if he were governor.

    President Romney would simply have nowhere to go, nothing to base his decision on, no inner resources he could turn to help him work his way through to an answer.

    It wouldn't be pretty.

  • Jason Samuels on December 07, 2011 2:22 PM:

    There are countless studies in political science suggesting that if you give people political candidates with identical policy positions, and identical backgrounds and identical everything except race, people will invariably view the black candidate to be more liberal than the white candidate.

    There's an element here of what the GOP does to all Dems: call them socialists or communists no matter their actual policy positions. But there's also a bit of race baiting going on here. Romney can say this because 1) this is what the GOP always says of Dems, and 2) he knows or his advisers certainly know that voters are already primed to believe that Obama is more liberal than he really is (and more left wing than his record really is) because he's black.

    So Romney is doing this because it's a normal attack line against Dems and because it's even more likely to be effective than it normally is because Obama is black. No mystery here.

  • exlibra on December 07, 2011 2:46 PM:

    To pile up on Mitt's unsupported by facts statement that we're a "merit-based society":

    [...] everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk [...]

    Which one of the three is not like the others? Where's the "merit" in taking risks, especially when you're taking risks with other people's money (vide: economy; crash of)?

  • Stephen Stralka on December 07, 2011 2:46 PM:

    The problem, I suspect, is that Romney lacks the courage and strength necessary to have a credible debate over economic policies.

    And unfortunately for him, Mitt Romney is going to have to have just such a debate with Barack Obama if he succeeds in winning the nomination. That's what I look forward to. I can't bring myself to watch any of the GOP clown shows, but I do look forward to seeing their eventual nominee having his ass handed to him when attempting to debate Obama.

  • Anonymous on December 07, 2011 2:49 PM:

    in merit-based society, Romney wouldn't have been this successful without his dad.
    America is not a purely merit-based society as it is already.

    entitlements and merit don't oppose each other. entitlements help reduce the gap by birth and make America closer to a more merit-based society.
    eliminating estate tax as he wants us to do is further away from meritocracy.

    which society seems more a merit-based?
    a country where someone like Bush or Romney who inherited his dad's wealth and connection would become a president?
    or a country where someone like clinton or obama who didn't even had a dad around growing up could become a president?

    complete meritocracy would never happen as luck dictates too many elements (such as height and looks) in success of one's life anyway.

  • FlipYrWhig on December 07, 2011 3:07 PM:

    @ exlibra: Where's the "merit" in taking risks

    This is part of the Republican catechism. It's the way they explain why people who make money through investing deserve to keep it rather than having it "stolen" or "confiscated" by the Taxman. It's also the way they defend management in labor disputes: "Sure, they made money, but it was because they put out the money in the first place!" I hear versions of the risk = merit equation all the time among those who troll the liberal blogosphere.

  • SecularAnimist on December 07, 2011 3:09 PM:

    Romney is just regurgitating the standard, scripted, focus-group-tested litany of inane bumper sticker slogans that are spoon-fed to weak-minded, gullible Ditto-Head dupes by the phony-baloney "right wing" media every day.

    The task of every contender for the Republican nominations is to (1) say what the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil want to hear and (2) bamboozle the rock-stupid, ignorant Republican base with a torrent of bullshit.

  • rbe1 on December 07, 2011 4:18 PM:

    He's neither a liar of a fool, he's an ass.

  • DRN0001 on December 07, 2011 5:39 PM:

  • Ned on December 07, 2011 6:49 PM:

    My biggest worry is that the dog will catch the car. What then? Australia can't hold us all.

  • Peter C on December 07, 2011 7:06 PM:

    To Romney, the millions of children living in poverty can't be helped since that would deprive them of the "invigorating pursuit of happiness".


    Marie Antionette thought the same, no doubt.

  • Wendell Murray on December 07, 2011 7:14 PM:

    Governor Romney, unfortunate to write, is simply a jerk. Whether he believe this nonsense or not is irrelevant. It is unadulterated nonsense that anyone with half a brain knows is nonsense.

    Governor Romney is no better than his brethren running for the Republican Presidential nomination.

  • Doug on December 07, 2011 8:13 PM:

    Mittens - there's no "there", there.
    (apologies to Gertrude Stein)

  • John D on December 07, 2011 9:56 PM:

    Fool or liar? Sure, but mainly, race-baiter. This is (lightly) coded language for, "Obama is a food-stamp lovin', white-folks' pockets-pickin' y'all-know-what. Vote him out before he runs off with your flower-of-womanhood and makes her his baby-mama!" This kind of paranoically self-serving trash has long been sputtered in private by four out of five Wall Street traders and Texas oilmen; now it's clearly become standard issue Republican rent-a-hack campaign boilerplate.

    Hey, it worked for Nixon....

  • SenjaP on December 07, 2011 11:25 PM:

    I think Mitt needs only a minor correction and I suggest someone YouTubes him making a correction:
    We Republicans have replaced merit-based society with an entitlement society for 1%. In our entitlement society, everyone in the 1% receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by 99% is redistributed to the 1%. And the only people to enjoy truly disproportionate rewards are people like me and the 10% of the 1% who will pay for my candidacy, while Republican 99% voters support us in gratitude we have finally managed to limit entitlement to Democratic 99% voters. They are simply not pure enough, by God's will, to belong to the 1% but God will see to Republican 99% voters receiving their 1% entitlement in the afterlife.

  • Very Serious Sam on December 08, 2011 1:08 AM:

    What surprises me (as German) most is that from the GOP candidates are selected amongst liars and betrayers like Romney, McCain and so on, who are without any trace of doubt intellectually and by character just rotten.

    I certainly don't admire our Chancellor Merkel over here, but compared to these people, she is a bright star in every respect.

  • blader on December 08, 2011 5:39 AM:

    This is Romney speaking the language of the lowest common denominator.

    He is trying to tell them that he is one of them.

    Which is why they can't stand the guy, because he obviously isn't one of them.

  • pgl on December 08, 2011 9:35 AM:

    Liar or a fool. Brad DeLong used to ask whether the hacks at the National Review were displaying Stupidity or Mendacity. And you are 100% right - the Romney campaign reads like the garbage that infested the National Review. Thankfully there are smart, honest conservatives such as Bruce Bartlett who have divorced themselves from this National Review rhetoric.

  • Bill Michtom on December 08, 2011 4:28 PM:

    Obama did almost nothing to get the economy going. As Krugman, Dean Baker and others have said since before the stimulus passed, it was too small by a factor of three. The health bill started by eliminating single payer from the bargaining table. The return to a "vision" (read "campaign rhetoric") happened once the Congress was completely out of reach. Obama has not been interested in doing anything that would make the banksters pay for their crimes.

    As to "This accusation is approximately as accurate as claiming that the Republican Party wants to pass laws forbidding poor people from making more money," that is exactly--though indirectly--what the Rs are doing: making sure poor and minority people have roadblocks on the way to the ballot box; blocking unemployment during the worst
    joblessness since the Depression; insuring that there will be no jobs programs or infrastructure repair; moving employment overseas. And, lest we forget, the Ds are helping with most of it.

    As to race, don't forget that this behavior has not only been directed at Obama. The Rs don't think D politicians--regardless of color--have a right to be in office.

    Rs will do anything to maintain their power. Ds will do almost anything.