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Extremism in defense of Gilded Age privilege

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As Isaac — happily not named Katrina II — grew into a hurricane threatening the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s conservative governor, Bobby Jindal, made it clear he didn’t want big government interference. Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate and tea party poster boy, said he was happy that Republicans had slashed spending on FEMA, the federal emergency agency, and were committed to his budget that would eviscerate domestic spending, including on FEMA. Louisiana homeowners, he added, would do better with a tax cut.

Those caught in the immigration storm, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said, should “self-deport.”

“In this present crisis,” the Republican Party platform declared, quoting Ronald Reagan, “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Not! In fact, Republican governors called on President Obama for emergency aid. Gov Jindal criticized the federal government for not doing enough, even after Obama declared a national emergency.

To paraphrase the sainted Reagan once more, “It isn’t so much that conservatives are ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

Hurricanes tend to concentrate the mind, and to sober the most besotted ideologues. But Isaac clearly had little effect on the platform that Mitt Romney’s Republican Party plans to run on this fall.

Much attention sensibly has been given to the extreme social policy of the GOP’s platform. Opposition to abortion with no exceptions, even for rape or incest, not even for “legitimate” or “forcible” rape,” which Rep. Ryan calls a “method of conception.”

Or the vicious immigration policy that, as The Washington Post concluded in a recent editorial, “is basically a declaration of war on the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.”

Or the dog-whistle racism over work requirements in welfare, now a centerpiece of dishonest and tawdry Romney ads. No wonder Romney garnered a well-earned 0 percent of African Americans’ votes in a recent poll.

Romney has sought to distance himself from the Republican extremes on abortion. But he is the leading advocate of the other aspect of new age Republican extremism: its Gilded Age economic policies.

For all the zealotry of the Christian Coalition or the tea party, the Romney-Ryan ticket is most notable for its fierce defense of privilege. Consider:

At a time when the top 1 percent of Americans captured a staggering 93 percent of national income growth in 2010, Romney advocates both extending the extra Bush tax cuts for the rich and another round of tax cuts that would offer those making a million or more another $175,000 annual tax break.

Romney says he’ll pay for these tax cuts by closing loopholes, but he refuses to reveal which ones. But he does state clearly that he won’t end the biggest loophole of all for the very wealthy — the 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. And as befits the man from Bain, he won’t condemn the ridiculous tax dodge — the so-called “carried-interest” tax rate — that allows private-equity billionaires to report their fees as capital gains rather than as wages. The result, as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reports, is that Romney is running on a policy that will raise taxes on working families and lower them on the rich.

Similarly, at a time when some multinational corporations, such as General Electric, with billions in profits, pay no taxes at all, Romney advocates lowering the corporate tax rate. As we know from the one full tax return he revealed, Romney, the man from Bain, took advantage of every foreign-tax-avoidance gimmick known to accountants — Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Islands shell corporations and more. Does he use this knowledge of tax dodges to advocate cleaning up the corporate tax code? Not exactly. Romney calls for a “territorial tax system” that would tax only profits reported in the United States. This effectively turns the entire world into a potential tax haven for multinationals.

Wall Street excesses — featuring what the FBI called an “epidemic” of fraud — blew up the economy and effectively doubled our national debt. But Romney, as befits the man from Bain, sees financialization of the economy as a feature, not a bug.

So he pledges to repeal rather than strengthen Dodd-Frank, the financial reforms designed to put some rules around the big banks. And, of course, he’s a strong opponent of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was designed to give consumers some protection against financial predators.

Clearly, this nation is failing to invest adequately in basics that are vital to our economy: education and training, research and development, 21st-century infrastructure, from sewage systems to renewable energy to faster broadband. Yet the Romney-Ryan budgets call for lowering government spending dramatically, while raising military spending (and postponing any cuts in Medicare and Social Security for a decade). This requires — as a matter of mathematics — deep cuts in programs for the vulnerable — programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, but also in investments even conservative business leaders support. That these cuts serve not to reduce the deficit but simply to help pay for the top end of Romney tax cuts is stark evidence of how fervent his defense of the 1 percent is.

“Extremism in defense of liberty,” conservative icon Barry Goldwater once said, “is no vice.” But extremism in defense of privilege is no virtue. In Tampa, the tea party gets its anti-government, anti-immigrant planks in the platform, and the Christian Coalition its war on women; but the big money is pouring in to support the praetorian guard of privilege at the top of the ticket.

Read more from Opinions Dana Milbank: The Republicans walk the planks Kathleen Parker: GOP needs a lesson on ‘the fairer sex’ Eugene Robinson: A storm the GOP didn’t expect Ruth Marcus: On abortion, a matter of exception

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