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Mitt Romney: An Extremist for the Privileged

Posted on Feb 29, 2012
Jason Hargrove (CC-BY)

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Maybe Rick Santorum is helping Mitt Romney after all: Santorum’s wacky statements about college and snobbery, along with his upset stomach over a 52-year-old John F. Kennedy speech, are distracting attention from Romney’s extremist economic ideas.

Yes, Romney needs Santorum to keep doing his exotic fan dance on social issues because the stage act diverts everyone (especially journalists) from examining the reactionary and regressive ideas Romney is cooking up on substantive questions. If Romneyism is what now passes for “moderation” in the Republican Party, no wonder the authentically moderate Olympia Snowe decided to end her distinguished career in the Senate. There is no room anymore for proposals remotely worthy of the moderate label.

Romney’s plan is simultaneously extreme and very, very boring. It draws on the one and only idea that today’s conservatives offer for solving any and every problem that comes along: Just throw yet more money at rich people.

At his moment of triumph Tuesday night after his necessary victories in Michigan and Arizona, a bit of inspiration from Romney would have been nice. Instead, he detailed a list of tax changes that might lift the spirits of accountants and lawyers for wealthy Americans across our great nation, while sending everyone else off to the fridge for a beer. 

Romney promised to enact an “across-the-board, 20 percent rate cut for every American,” pledged to “repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax,” and said he’d abolish the “death tax.” (The “death tax” is conservative-speak for the estate tax paid by only the most affluent Americans.) He’d lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, “make the R&D tax credit permanent to foster innovation,” and “end the repatriation tax to return investment back to our shores.”


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It’s not exactly “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but these ideas do appeal to Romney’s most faithful constituency in primary after primary: Republicans earning more than $200,000 a year. In Michigan, they backed him over Santorum by 2-to-1.

They’re Romney’s base for good reason. That “across-the-board” tax cut sounds fair and balanced. But a Tax Policy Center study last November of the impact of a 20 percent across-the-board rate cut showed that the wealthiest 0.1 percent would get an average tax reduction of $264,000. The poorest 20 percent would get $78, and those smack in the middle would get $791.

And the candidate who says he’ll eliminate the deficit does not let on, as a new Tax Policy Center report noted Wednesday, that his tax giveaway would add more than $3 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Romney talks vaguely about closing loopholes to recoup some revenue, but aren’t “moderates” supposed to see deficit reduction as urgent?

There is a terrible bias in the mainstream media, which judge “moderation” almost entirely in relation to positions on social issues such as abortion or gay marriage. The media love these issues because they often involve sex, which everyone likes to read about, and do not demand elaborate explanations, charts or tables.

Go right on social issues, and the extremist charge can’t be far behind. But the media rarely peg an extreme economic conservative as “extreme” because doing so requires tedious math-laden paragraphs. Besides, people in pinstriped suits who are driven by money don’t seem “extreme.”

So here’s a counterintuitive argument: These primaries have damaged the Republican candidates’ images in the short run. But in the long run, they may yet help Romney—if he prevails—because by comparison with Santorum and Newt Gingrich, he seems “moderate,” and his supporters are more “moderate” than the voters backing the other guys. And Romney has been on so many sides of so many issues that pundits can arbitrarily imagine their own Romney.

My friend and colleague Matt Miller wrote recently that “everyone knows Romney is basically a pragmatic centrist.” No, “everyone” does not know this. The evidence from his tax plan, in fact, is that he’s an extremist for the privileged.

We’re witnessing what should be called The Two Cadillacs Fallacy: Romney’s rather authentic moments suggesting he doesn’t understand the lives of average people (such as his comment on his wife’s two Cadillacs) are dismissed as “gaffes,” while Santorum’s views on social issues are denounced as “extreme.” But Romney’s gaffes are more than gaffes: They reflect deeply held and radical views about how wealth and power ought to be distributed in the United States. These should worry us a lot more than Santorum’s dopey “snob” comment or his tasteless denunciation of JFK.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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By john polifronio, March 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m curious about something.  For the entire period during which we’ve come to be acquainted with Romney, media, pundits, have told us, that Romney is the ultimate flip-flopper.  How then, can depend on anything he’s telling us now?  Either you were wrong in your original assessment, or you’re wrong in believing what he’s telling us now, as if 100% of it is reliably true.

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MenschGuy's avatar

By MenschGuy, March 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment

Super Big Mistake today by the GOP mullahs: Limbaugh
stated on air of wanting to see porn for his
“subsidizing birth control” for the Georgetown lass
who is standing up to all the white, flabby throated,
old pale face males who think they have the right to
speak for GOD and tell the world how and what to
think and feel.
The GOP is now down to its most ordure
denizens.Strange as strange can be; to be a
“conservative” today is to be in a state of admitted
need for serious psycho therapy—and of course
Limbaugh with his oxycontin habit is already living
in the devil’s cave.

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By BrooklynDame, March 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment

It seems that the choices are getting clearer and clearer (though I can’t imagine
anyone being on the fence at this point).

The problem is now what it will continue to be: GOP obstruction to the point that
hardly anything can get done and big business will continue to rule.

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MenschGuy's avatar

By MenschGuy, March 1, 2012 at 5:21 am Link to this comment

The Good News: Romney won’t be president unless Dems don’t turn out to vote. The Bad News:the hatred and near pathological condemnation of the Democrats and Obama (just read some of the comments in the HILL NEWSPAPER from Republicans around the country)has created so divided a federal government in D.C. that nothing, nothing, can be done; no one agrees how to look at the world—and coming January 2013 will fall all the financial problems put off by today’s congress. Very scary times are soon upon us folks, as we head into an unknown future in an ocean of ideologies that are not grounded in any real world realities. The Capitol has become little more than a punching bag for many angry, frustrated, ignorant, uneducated white people who blame others for their failure to succeed in these changing times. The departure of the last of the moderates from both parties has cleared the forum of any sensibility and rational approach to solving problems. The stage has been set for ever greater conflict and ever growing pugnacious assaults against a unified society that can effectively govern itself.

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By EmileZ, February 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment

I quite agree with this article, and I would add that the Republican antics are also diverting attention away from the Democrat’s confused and inadequate proposed solutions to our incredibly serious economic problems.

The simplest, sanest, most humane and yes, moderate solution to the long-term debt problem, is Medicare for all, or Single-Payer as it is more commonly called coupled with the ability to negotiate with big pharma to lower the cost of prescription meds.

The most rational solutions never seem to be “on the table”. You know, that special table that Obama puts “all options” on to show what a serious guy he is.

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By bigchin, February 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


I won’t be voting for Mitt.  I’ll be voting for Rocky Anderson.  But still…

I didn’t realize it was Romney who had stopped his presidential campaign to return to Congress and shill for the greatest economic crime in the history of man, the greatest transfer of wealth from the working class to the “privileged.”  Indeed, I recall that it was the Congressional GOP that - in a moment of choosing right for probably the wrong reasons - mostly opposed the bailout.  Talk about extremism for the privileged…

I need only mention of few names - Geithner, Summers, Orszag - to betray the propaganda that Dionne is spewing.

Have you no shame, sir?

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By Rodney, February 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mitt Romney will say anything and I mean anything to
be President. I guess so dear old dad can be proud of
him and be baptised from the grave. This man changes
positions more than sex and underwear. Excuse me just
underwear. He has no core belief other than wanting
to be President because his money has bought him
everything else. The only reason he is not a career
politician is because of lost to Teddy Kennedy. Mitt
will finish busting whatever unions are left and
bring middle class workers back to the days of
indentured servant.He will be the bankrupt, firing
people, tax cutting for the rich President that
caters only to the filthy rich. By the way he isn’t
concerned about the poor. That’s what we will all
wound up being. Other that his 1% buddies.

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