May 18, 2013
Pity the Quarter-Billionaire
Posted on Jan 8, 2012
By Thomas Frank, TomDispatch
This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.
Dear Tea Party Movement,
For the last few months, the world has been fascinated by your frenzied search for a presidential candidate who is not Mitt Romney. We know that you find the man inauthentic and that you have buoyed up a string of anti-Mitts in the Iowa polling—Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich—buffoons all, preposterous figures whom you have rightfully changed your minds about as soon as you got to know them.
It was quite a spectacle, your quest for the non-Romney—and I think we all know why you undertook it. In ways that matter, Romney is clearly a problem for you. His views on abortion, for example, change with the winds. Ditto, gay rights. He designed the Massachusetts health insurance system that was the model for Obamacare. And he’s even said that he approved of the TARP bank bailout, the abomination that ignited the Tea Party uprising in the first place.
Grievous offenses all, I have no doubt. Still, my advice to you idealists of the right is this: get over it. Not for sell-out reasons like: Romney has the best chance of beating Obama. No. You should get behind the charging Massachusetts RINO (your favorite term for a Republican-In-Name-Only sellout type) because, in a certain paradoxical way, he may turn out to be the truest of all the candidates to the spirit of your movement.
The Gimme Candidate of 2012
Start with those issues where Romney’s positions so offend the sensibilities of you Robespierre Republicans. First, of course, the social issues. If nothing else, you in the Tea Party movement have spent the last three years teaching Americans that they no longer matter—not when we’re supposedly in a battle for the very soul of capitalism.
And here comes Mitt Romney, the soul of American capitalism in the flesh. Look back over his career as a predator drone at Bain Capital: Isn’t it the exact sort of background you always insist politicians ought to have? Isn’t it the sort of titanic enterprise for which you lust, as you wave your copy of Atlas Shrugged in the air?
You accuse the former Massachusetts governor of opportunism, but from where I stand, the bad faith is all on your side. What offends you about Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare plan, for example, isn’t that it crushes human liberty, but that it provided the model for President Obama’s own healthcare overhaul, which you spent the last two years decrying as the deed of a power-grabbing socialist.
If the public ever learns about the Republican provenance of Obamacare—and if Romney is the candidate, they most certainly will—it will become obvious that your movement was not telling the truth about all that Kenyan Stalinist death-panel stuff. It is indeed a moment to fear, that day when the nation finds out that you were, ahem, exaggerating in your bullhorn pronouncements about the communist in the White House. Still, if the Tea Party movement is all about truth-telling and straight shooting, then you need to face it like a patriot.
And yes, Mitt Romney has also said that the bank bailouts of 2008-2009 were necessary, while you regard them as a mortal sin against free-market principles. (To his credit though, at least in your eyes, he was also a total hardliner about the auto industry bailouts, displaying the pointless meanness you seem to admire in nearly any other politician.) In truth, though, the candidate’s only offense on the bailout question was his candor. He merely admitted what should be obvious to any billionaire from a study of bank history: that conservatives have no problem doling out, or grabbing for, government money when the chips are down.
After all, President Herbert Hoover himself distributed bank bailouts in the early years of the Great Depression. Calvin Coolidge’s vice president, Charles Dawes, helped out in Hoover’s bailout operation, later changing hats and grabbing a big slice of the bailout pie for his own bank. Ronald Reagan’s administration rescued Continental Illinois from what was then the largest bank failure in our history.
Citibank’s market-worshiping CEO Walter Wriston begged for (and of course received) the assistance of big government when Citi needed it—after making loans to the troubled Penn Central Railroad. And don’t forget, every single one of you is guilty of taking a government bailout any time you make a withdrawal from a bank that’s been rescued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
The reason they—I mean, you—do these things should be as obvious as it is simple: “free market” has always been a high-minded way of saying “gimme,” and when the heat rises, the “market” is invariably replaced by more direct methods, like demanding bailouts from the government you hate. Banks get bailouts for the simple reason that they want bailouts and have the power to insist on them—the same circumstances that got them deregulated in wave after wave in the Eighties, Nineties, and Aughts.
In this sense, Romney, who is loud and proud when it comes to the need for further deregulation, has actually been more consistent than you. He’s the gimme candidate of 2012 and so he should really be your guy.
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