January 10, 2012

Mitt Romney’s dead heat with Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses bolstered the media narrative that Mitt Romney may not be conservative enough for Republican primary voters. This characterization serves Romney well. His rivals carve up each other, hoping to emerge as the conservative “alternative” to Romney. And vast swaths of the media discount his reactionary views, anticipating his “pivot” to more moderate positions once the nomination is secured. In reality, Romney is a remarkably reactionary candidate, camouflaged in corporate pinstripes.

On social issues, Romney embraces all of the right’s litmus tests. He pledges to repeal President Obama’s health-care reform, even though it was modeled on the plan Romney signed as Massachusetts governor. He favors repealing Roe v. Wade, outlawing women’s right to choose. He supports an amendment to make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He’s for building a fence on the U.S.-Mexican border, opposes any path to legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country and rails against the Texas policy to offer in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented workers. Advised on legal matters by the reactionary crank Robert Bork, he repeatedly calls for more judges in the activist right-wing tradition of the gang of four — Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito.

On national security, he is far more bellicose than former ambassador Jon Huntsman and somewhat to the right of Newt Gingrich. He says he’d add 100,000 troops and hundreds of billions of dollars to the military budget. He promises war with Iran if it proceeds toward a nuclear weapon. He joins George W. Bush in claiming that waterboarding is not torture.

But it is on economic policy where Romney’s extremism is most apparent — the extremism of the 1 percent, reflecting the zealotry of a former corporate raider at Bain Capital who made his fortune preying on U.S. companies.

Romney calls for returning to the same conservative policies — deregulation, financialization, corporate trade — that generated Gilded Age inequality and a declining middle class even before driving the economy over a cliff. He supports repealing Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform act. He favored the Republican effort to cripple the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board by blocking Obama’s nominations to those agencies. He wants a weaker Environmental Protection Agency, calling regulation “the invisible boot of the state.” Not surprisingly, he agrees with Rick Perry that anti-union “right-to-work legislation makes a lot of sense for New Hampshire and for the nation.”

Like Gingrich, Romney summons up a dark vision of the United States at an ominous crossroads. “This is a defining time for America,” he says, “We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on the other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American.”

Romney would savage programs that serve the vulnerable. He’s been more specific about supporting various parts of the infamous Paul Ryan budget than his rivals. That’s the budget House Republicans passed that ended Medicare as we know it while cutting funds from education, food stamps and other programs. Romney proposes restructuring Medicaid and food stamps as block-grant programs while slashing overall spending. He’d cut funding for Pell grants, which provide (inadequate) scholarships to poor students. And he’d trim funding for Head Start, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and programs that support the disabled.

When Chris Wallace of Fox News, of all places, asked Romney whether, given his proposed cuts — $700 billion from Medicaid, $127 billion from food stamps, half of the funds for Pell grants — he was concerned that “some people are going to get hurt.” Romney replied without hesitation, saying he didn’t think we hurt the poor “by cutting welfare spending dramatically,” so these cuts wouldn’t hurt either.

These cuts would not be used to reduce deficits — despite the fact that Romney has signed the risible “cut, cap and balance” pledge — but to pay for tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest 1 percent. Romney would eliminate the estate tax, which applies only to multimillion dollar estates like his own, and he’d lower corporate tax rates, give multinationals a tax holiday to repatriate profits sheltered abroad and sustain the top- end Bush tax cuts. The result, according to a detailed analysis by the Tax Policy Center, would give those earning more than a million dollars a year an average annual tax cut of about $295,000 by 2015.

With Europe on the verge of a recession and the United States still struggling to recover from the Great Recession caused by the financial collapse, Romney’s trickle-down economic plan is exactly wrong for the United States. It would add to unemployment, increase poverty and accelerate the decline of the middle class.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Romney, as Mike Huckabee once famously noted, “looks like the guy who laid you off.” At Bain, he was the guy who fired you. In a review of 77 major deals that Bain capital did when Romney headed the firm, the Wall Street Journal found that “22% [of the businesses that Bain invested in] either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses.” Of course, Bain produced remarkable returns for its investors, including Romney.

Romney trumpets an agenda that would benefit the few at the expense of the many. This isn’t the plan of a moderate. The conservative garb isn’t something Romney has donned for the primaries. These policies are not popular with most Republicans, much less with most voters. They are consistent with Romney’s background as a corporate raider. And as his fundraising shows, they play well in the plush offices of big finance where Romney made his fortune. He is a champion for the 1 percent, peddling a program that will ensure that working Americans bear the cost for the mess left by Wall Street’s extremes while the buccaneer bankers, corporate raiders and private equity gamblers are free to go back to preying on America.