Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Pointlessness of Mitt Romney

“Pointless…like giving caviar to an elephant.”
– William Faulkner

Leave it to Faulkner to create a simile so apt that it reaches across decades to apply, very neatly, to the futility of foisting Mitt Romney upon the Republican Party as its presidential nominee. The image of the elephant is self-evidently appropriate. As for caviar, despite its association with money and privilege, one wonders who actually enjoys its taste. Truth be told, it is over-rated, as most delicacies are. Caviar is a lot like Marmite, only more expensive and lacking its nutritional value. So it is with Romney, moneyed and privileged, yet without much to recommend him.

Of course, the late Nobel Laureate knew nothing of the former Massachusetts governor, but ‘twas always thus with a masterful turn of phrase – it can be wheeled out again and again, pertinent to any number of circumstances.

In this case, nominating Romney to lead the GOP in November, and even electing him president, would be pointless. While a President Romney may slow the country’s deterioration, and may even make good on his pledge to repeal Obamacare (that is, if the Supreme Court doesn’t drive a stake through that vampire-law first), his toothless policy proposals will do no more than delay the inevitable – that is, the end of America as we know it.

Getting the nation back to where it was in, say, 2007, is not a realistic option. The unfunded liabilities of the country, including Social Security and Medicare, total in the tens, and perhaps hundreds of trillions of dollars. As for debt and deficits, these have taken on a life of their own, rocketing to unheard-of peacetime levels. Finally, as pertains to personal freedom, the United States continues to increase constraints on its citizens, while closing itself off from the rest of the globe. To wit, America will cease to be a force for good in the world – let alone the indispensable nation – if it does not undertake immediate and drastic changes to the way it operates.

Romney, for all his Hugh Beaumont good-looks, solves none of these problems. This column maintains that Newt Gingrich, warts and all, is the strongest of the GOP candidates who have made themselves available (Jeb Bush, please call your office), and this is largely because the former Speaker has advanced, and can articulate, a platform of bold reform. Without one, America is just whistling Dixie.

The United States spends, taxes and borrows too much, has rules and laws for every facet of human existence (with more than 3,000 new federal regulations created this past year alone), countenances a Congress whose members enjoy a median net worth 35 times that of the citizens they govern, and continues to layer police-state security onto all aspects of daily life.

A word on that last – the Land of the Free loves to lock people up. America has an incarceration rate 13 times the rate of population growth, and has more individuals in prison than any other nation in the world – not per capita, but straight up. Long before he was running for president, Gingrich led the way in denouncing the American penchant for putting people behind bars. One might imagine this issue is the province of hippie-freak heroin-legalizers, or a simple matter of law-and-order politics. But prison is the default option in America, for everything from minor drug offenses to bouncing a check, and prosecutors are given overwhelming power to abuse the system, bully witnesses, and strip citizens of their right to a proper defense.

Freedom-minded conservatives should care very much about America’s lock-and-key mentality, as should bleeding-heart leftists – and let that latter group recall that Barack Obama not only failed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he signed legislation allowing Americans to be sent there.

Where is Romney on all this? When has he shown inclination or initiative to restore America’s freedoms and reform an abusive system? Does he even know the problem exists?

On spending, Romney pledges to cram government outlays back down below 20 percent of GDP, from their current 25 percent, while cutting $500 billion from the budget in 2016. For those whose pidgin politician-speak isn’t up to snuff, “cutting” means reducing the rate of growth, not actually getting to a lower number. In any case, with an entitlement-laden federal budget edging up toward $4 trillion, a promised reduction of one-eighth that amount, to be delivered four years’ hence, is just so much chin-music.

It is on taxes that Romney is at his most unctuous and misguided. He shows no intention of reducing the tax burden on those who create jobs, repeatedly stating that relief for the middle class is the best way to spend our “precious” tax dollars. Aside from the Gollum-like fascination with other people’s money, does Romney imagine tax cuts are just temporary measures to give “relief” to people until such time as rates go up again? Or does he recognize that lowering rates and simplifying the system is the way to create a thriving market and increase employment? If he does not, as seems to be the case, then Romney has no business leading a party that purports to advocate limited government and free enterprise.

In fact, quite apart from a bold plan, Romney offers almost no tax-reform plan at all. For him, maintaining the Bush tax “cuts” (an absurd moniker, inasmuch as these rates have been in place longer than the 1997 Clinton tax regime they replaced) would be sufficient. Never mind that for those who would be most likely to hire their fellow Americans, this leaves rates on income way up at 35 percent – and north of 50 percent in some cases, once state and local taxes are included.

Romney would peg corporate taxes at 25 percent – far higher than America’s competitor nations and twice the rate Gingrich is proposing. Why on God’s green Earth would anyone start a business in America right now, or in the country Romney envisions?

As former Clinton advisor Dick Morris pointed out, while giving props to Gingrich, the budget was balanced in the 1990s by way of tax cuts, not increases. Presidents of both parties, from John F. Kennedy through George W. Bush, have demonstrated that lower rates lead to higher tax revenues, while spurring the economy. For this reason, Art Laffer, supply-side pioneer and architect of the Reagan boom years, has endorsed Gingrich over Romney, stating, “Newt’s plan is right.”

In a general election, Romney could probably defeat Obama (though he might make Southern states closer-run contests than they might be for a different GOP standard-bearer), but so what? President Romney would spend his first term as he has campaigned – splitting the difference, careful to offend no one, hoping to win again in 2016 – sounding great and looking presentable while the country goes to blazes.

Many Americans understand that the economic crisis, and the nation’s towering obligations, represent an existential threat to the nation. Even so, they ought not to fall for Romney’s bleat that he is “a business guy,” and therefore equipped to make things right. It is entirely possible – indeed, demonstrable, in Romney’s case – that someone can have the foresight to be an early investor in Staples, yet misunderstand how an economy grows.

A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for managed decline. At this time for choosing, America must do better than that.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at