Mitt in the Slough of Despond (Pilgrim’s Egress)

Mitt Romney finds a better way to discuss food stamps The last month has been rough on Mitt Romney as he staggers on his uncertain pilgrimage towards the White House.  His destination has recently begun to resemble a shimmering mirage. The modern morality play about the weaknesses of modern democracy entitled “the Republican half of the US Presidential Race” and perhaps more accurately conceived as Pilgrim’s egress being show-cased in recent weeks is so skin-crawling and has such a clumsy script that it almost qualifies for Groucho Marx’s famous throw-away line about a play he once panned with:
I didn’t like the play, but to be fair I saw it under adverse conditions…. The curtain was up.”

Nevertheless, like it or not, this morality play is compelling viewing.
Like George W Bush before him, Mitt Romney’s anxiety to please the sorts of folk who have become the traditional Republican financial backers of recent years, have made him a constituency politician par excellence, and I really should add, again like George W, with commonsense coming a very distant second. A man who could make the unwise and subsequently obviously wrong statement to London Mayor Boris Johnson about the likelihood of the London Olympics being a disaster, insult the Russians and the Palestinians, and make numerous statements suggesting he had a poor grasp of World Politics, by no means thereby disqualifies himself for the world’s top political role, but it does at least raise some serious question marks about how he would handle the job. Even if he is to be carried by his advisors, the real problem is that he appears to have made such poor choices for his consultants and speech writers. Perhaps his only serious fault is that he has been prepared to allow his desire to please his chosen audience to the point he is prepared to sacrifice his objectivity.With the ultra rich paying for his campaign, when talking to an audience of rich backers he apparently deliberately ditched his earlier Governor stance of a liberal Republican with a conscience for the people and instead reshaped his policy to what one protester’s placard slogan described as “God bless half the United States”. He may in fact be the first politician on record to go as far, even in private, to announce that it was not his job to care for 47% of the population on the grounds that they were what in this country we would call whingers and bludgers. A recent poll suggests this has lost him 5% of his potential support.

No doubt his actual words, now well publicised by the publication Mother Jones, were shaped for his backers and were never intended to reach the 47%, but that he also included the charge that the 47% didn’t pay tax anyway, is so patently false that either he wasn’t thinking of what he was saying – or worse he is genuinely out of touch with half the country.   Certainly his own public tax record shows that he has a smaller proportionate tax bill than those he denigrates. Another distinct possibility is that it is rather the Republican machinery of advisors and speech writers who are letting him down.   When left more to his own devices as State Governor he certainly seemed more sympathetic to the plight of the so-called common people.

Certainly it is true that there is a nasty and developing gap between the rich and the poor, as there is in most developed countries in the West. It is also true that since the ultra-rich can and do open their wallets for the Republican campaign they would first have to be made aware of what is in it for them. A rich Casino owner is indeed very likely to support a campaign that provides him with a hugely greater tax incentive and is conversly far less likely to support a party that promises to raise his taxes. However from this distance at least, it looks as if Mitt Romney may have made the mistake of assuming that all rich people share his (or his advisors’?)cynical view of the less well off and further may be wrong to assume that they share his stated feeling of lack of responsibility for the poor. I cannot imagine Bill and Melinder Gates or Warren Buffett sharing this point of view and still less all those thousands of community-minded members of service organisations like Rotary.

Hopefully he is not as stupid as he now sounds. He is both rich and powerful so presumably he understands and uses some of the forces controlling society. Whether or not he is wise to talk of his business record is another matter. No politician is supposed to control a business from which he or she might continue to profit and instead is supposed to rely on blind trusts whereby previous business interests are managed on the politician’s behalf. For  politician to admit by implication that one is still at the helm of such a business might seem tantamount to some form of corruption. Nor have some of his past business decisions always seemed to have been in his workers’ best interests. In one notable example, in effect laying off workers and closing down part of a local industry to shift production off shore to make a profit is not the sort of action to convince his potential voters that he cares about the common worker.

Will this modern day Pilgrim be able to extract himself from the mire into which he seems to have blundered –  or was that pushed? Stay watching. The curtain is still up.

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