White House Burning, Part II: Two Views of Government, a Long View of Debt

Monday, October 15th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

This week I am exploring Simon Johnson and James Kwak’s White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters To You. Previously we considered the history of our federal debt and the relationship of government, money, and credit. Today we look at our long-term debt outlook. Next we’ll conclude with the authors’ proposals for a sustainable budget that preserves essential programs and services.

Simon Johnson is a professor of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is a member of the CBO’s Panel of Economic Advisers and of the FDIC’s Systemic Resolution Advisory Committee. He was previously the chief economist of the IMF.

James Kwak is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. In 2011–2012, he is also a fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. Before going to law school, he was a management consultant and co-founded a software company.

Johnson and Kwak founded The Baseline Scenario economics blog and also wrote 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown.

The Party of Fiscal Responsibility

If the debate over our federal debt were really about the risks of debt, President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress would not have passed budget-breaking tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Economic growth in the 1990s – fueled by Baby Boomers in their peak earning years, boosting both tax revenues and our overall economy – left a budget surplus in 2000. A fiscally responsible party would have recognized those Baby Boomers would soon be retiring, and proposed saving the current budget surplus to pay for the Social Security and Medicare benefits those Baby Boomers would soon need.

Indeed a fiscally responsible party recognized and proposed exactly that in the 2000 presidential election campaign. The party of fiscal responsibility were Democrats, as Vice President and presidential nominee Al Gore said:

We will balance the budget every year, and dedicate the budget surplus first to saving Social Security. Putting both Social Security and Medicare in an iron-clad lock box where the politicians can’t touch them – to me, that kind of common sense is a family value.

Texas Governor and Republican nominee George W. Bush proposed not fiscal responsibility to prepare for the future, but tax cuts to boost current consumption:

I believe that cutting the taxes will encourage economic growth. I believe cutting all marginal rates will keep the economy growing. I believe we ought to get rid of the death tax. I believe we ought to get rid of the earnings test on Social Security. I believe we ought to mitigate the marriage penalty. I believe we ought to use this time of prosperity to get money out of Washington and into the pockets of the taxpayers.

That pattern has not changed over the past twelve years. While Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan howl about our federal debt, their budget proposal is vague and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated that it could push the debt up to 96% of our GDP by 2021.

How did Republicans become the party of fiscal irresponsibility?

Two views of government

Conservatives often call for a “return” to our nation’s true roots of: limited government, little regulation, and low taxes. Yet as we saw in E.J. Dionne’s Our Divided Political Heart, that history is more myth than fact.

However, Johnson and Kwak note that scientific and technical advances increased the scope of government. We learned how public utilities could reduce disease and improve public health, and the need to weigh the risks from pollution against corporate profits. The Great Depression highlighted the need for insurance to ease the suffering of market failures and allow seniors to retire with dignity. Science and technology also increased the need for a better educated population who could both develop and use new technologies. And as advances in medicine pushed health care costs beyond families’ budgets, we saw the need for effective, affordable health insurance to pool the risks. This was less a “government takeover” than increasing awareness that the often brutal hardships of middle- and low-income families’ lives were not inevitable.

Faced with that choice, the authors write, the inevitable result is redistribution of wealth. The only question is who the redistribution favors:

In a low-tax/low-benefit world, your bank account is a little bigger (if you make enough to pay taxes), but you face more risk of running out of money in retirement or not being able to afford health care; in a high-tax/high-benefit world, your bank account is a little smaller, but you face less risk. Since rich people are better able to self-insure, they gain less by pooling their risk with other people, so they might be better off in a low-tax/low-benefit world; poor people cannot self-insure, so they gain the most from risk pooling, and they will be better off in a high-tax/high-benefit world. Compared to current policy, reducing benefits so we can keep our low tax rates is a form of redistribution from the poor to the rich; raising taxes so we can maintain today’s benefit levels is a form of redistribution from the rich to the poor (assuming that the tax increases are progressive).

Thus we get then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), now chairman of FreedomWorks, admitting why Republicans really talk about deficits and the federal debt:

Balancing the budget in my mind is the attention-getting device that enables me to reduce the size of government. Because the national concern over the deficit is larger than life. [...] If you’re anxious about the deficit, let me use your anxiety to cut the size of government.

Or, at least, to cut taxes. Tax cuts are usually popular, but spending cuts are not. So the Republican playbook has been to cut taxes but not spending while a Republican is in the White House, then howl about deficits and force fiscally responsible Democratic presidents to take the political fallout for raising taxes or cutting spending.

A long view of debt

That understanding sets the stage for the authors’ long-term outlook for our federal debt. Our current $11 trillion debt is partly due to the 2001 Bush tax cuts ($3 trillion), partly due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($1 trillion), and mostly due to the 2008 financial collapse that cost nine million jobs and wiped out an estimated $7.8 trillion in projected GDP growth from 2008-2018. That lost revenue coincided more families eligible for unemployment benefits, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and tax expenditures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Many displaced older workers also chose early retirement and applied for Social Security benefits.

Our current fiscal crisis will pass, but the long-term debt dangers lie in our primary government insurance programs: Social Security and Medicare. For Social Security, the issue is simply that more people will soon retire and they will live longer. Thus, their benefits will exceed then-current Social Security revenues and deplete the program’s existing trust fund.

For Medicare, those issues are compounded by rising health care costs. That is partly a function of medical advances that offer new tests, new drugs, and new procedures, such that treatment for a given illness costs more now than it did even two decades ago. It’s also partly a function of our fee-for-service model that spurs providers to prescribe as many tests, drugs, and procedures as insurers will reimburse. The authors acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act attempts to limit the growth of health care costs, but argue there isn’t yet enough data to know whether or how well those provisions will work. Their projections assume health care costs will continue to rise as they have the past two decades, and that would create a serious, long-term debt Medicare debt risk.

But as the authors emphasize, privatizing Social Security and Medicare would not eliminate or even reduce those costs. Indeed, turning those tasks over to private, for-profit investment firms and health insurance companies would likely increase net spending for retirees, with the costs borne by retirees and their families or – for those who could not afford it – other public programs that shelter and care for the indigent.

The Baby Boomers will retire, and will need health care in their senior years, and we will all pay for it, one way or another. Given that, the authors argue, both moral and economic factors suggest we should preserve Social Security and Medicare in their current forms, which are less expensive and far less cruel than the alternatives.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch … and tomorrow we’ll see how they propose to pay for the government we need.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

Weekend Reading List

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on the impact of the 2012 elections on our judicial system and health care policy, Paul Ryan’s reactionary budgets and bad debate performance, and how Mitt Romney dodges taxes and failed to be a bipartisan leader in Massachusetts.


The Hidden Stakes of the Election – While the fate of the Supreme Court gets almost all of the attention in talk about what is at stake this November, the differences in the judges that President Obama would appoint to lower courts versus those that Mitt Romney would appoint is critical to determining whether our judicial system will uphold or overturn important public health and safety regulations.

The Health Policy Election – an overview of the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on health care reform, Medicare, and Medicaid, and what those differences would mean for each program.

Ryan Meets Reality – a great summary of the Vice-Presidential debate explaining how it appeared that “one vice-presidential candidate [was] speaking from knowledge and experience and the other from index cards.”

Ryan Roundup: Everything You Need to Know About Chairman Ryan’s Budget - While Paul Ryan may be trying to hide his reactionary fiscal and tax policies, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have offered a helpful reminder of what Ryan really stands for by collecting all of their articles about Ryan’s proposals to abolish Medicare, eviscerate Medicaid, and slash the safety net in order to finance more tax giveaways to billionaires and big corporations.

Mitt Romney’s Tax Dodge – a helpful summary of all of the ways that quarter-of-a-billionaire Mitt Romney manages to pay a lower effective tax rate than most middle class Americans.

Romney Claims of Bipartisanship as Governor Face Challenge – a closer look suggests that there is little to back up Romney’s claims that he was a bipartisan leader in Massachusetts.

Why Mitt’s Mendacity Matters

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Over the course of this Presidential campaign, we’ve learned one thing about Mitt Romney – that he is willing to say virtually anything if he thinks it will get him a vote.  A case in point is last week’s Presidential debate in Denver, where Romney told at least 27 falsehoods in only 38 minutes of speaking, which is an average of one lie every 86 seconds.  Whether Romney was talking about his tax plans, Medicare, green energy development, Dodd Frank, etc., virtually every major utterance by Romney at the debate turned out to have little to no connection to the truth.  And Romney’s performance at the debate was typical for him, as throughout this campaign Romney has repeatedly launched attack after attack on President Obama that are well-known to be simply false.  Over at the Maddow Blog, Steven Benen has a 38-part series chronicling the numerous falsehoods that Romney tells every week. And, of course, Romney’s willingness to frequently create entirely new positions on issues has rightly earned him the nickname “Multiple Choice Mitt.”

Romney’s nearly pathological lying matters for at least two reasons.  First is that our democracy can only function if candidates and elected officials abide by some basic connection to reality.  Our system is designed as a representative democracy, in which our elected officials make the fundamental decisions regarding how our society is to be governed but must ultimately answer to the people who determine, through elections, whether such officials get elected or re-elected.  But the ability of the people to ensure that the system remains representative is short-circuited if our elected officials deliberately and consistently lie about what they are planning to do or are doing because the public cannot really know what they are voting for or against.  And if a campaign that is as detached from reality as Romney’s is able to succeed, it sets an extremely bad precedent for even greater levels of mendacity from future candidates.

The second reason that Romney’s willingness to lie with abandon matters is that a review of our nation’s history over the past fifty or so years shows that virtually every major policy disaster has been based on or grown out of blatant lying by a Presidential Administration.  The litany of such disasters are likely familiar to most readers, but bear repeating:

* Gulf of Tonkin – In August 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, eager to escalate US involvement in the Vietnam War, fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly launched attacks on US ships engaging in routine patrols.  President Johnson’s August 4 speech about the “incident” led to incredulous media reporting and paved the way for the U.S. getting mired in the war.  The result was more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers killed and 150,000 wounded.

* Watergate – President Richard Nixon’s willingness to lie and cheat in order to advance his Presidency and win re-election ultimately led to “a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against real or perceived opponents” that represented “a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.”  The result was a Constitutional crisis in which President Nixon became the only President to resign in office and the jailing of 40 of the President’s aides and associates.

* Iran Contra – Having been stymied in his efforts to US taxpayer dollars going to fund the Contras insurgency against the leftist Sandinista government that had come to power in Nicaragua, the Reagan Administration decided to clandestinely sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of a handful of American hostages, and then use the proceeds from those sales to fund weapons for the Contras.

* The Lewinsky Scandal – While of a far lower magnitude than the other lies on this list, President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent blatantly false denial of that affair to the American people opened the door to Republicans almost creating a Constitutional crisis through the impeachment of the President for only the second time in U.S. history.

* The 2003 Invasion of Iraq – President George W. Bush’s Administration told a cavalcade of lies to create an excuse for invading Iraq.  The result was the death of more than 4,40o US soldiers, an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi civilians dead, and a direct financial cost of more than $800 billion with indirect costs (interest on debt, caring for veterans, etc.) bringing the cost to at least $3 trillion.

Romney’s willingness to say virtually anything in order to get elected does not bode well for what he and the people he would fill his Administration with would do if they were in the White House.  We’ve seen from Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, and George W. Bush that the Office of the Presidency creates the temptation to lie, often with disastrous effect.  Now imagine what would happen with someone such as Mitt Romney for whom lying appears to be second nature.

Some may respond that all politicians lie.  But there is a large difference between the occasional shading of the truth or misstatements that  most politicians engage in at some point, and the type of pervasive repetition of claims that directly contradict statements made only days or weeks before and/or that have been widely and consistently debunked.  And it is this latter type of persistent and blatant lying that Romney engages in, and that raises serious concerns about what sorts of scandals or foreign policy misadventures would occur in a Romney Administration.

The contrast with the Obama Administration here is especially instructive, as President Obama’s first term has been essentially scandal free.  The $250 billion or so in direct spending under the 2009 stimulus bill was distributed with virtually no corruption or fraud.  The handful of times that there have been credible allegations of corrupt behavior by an Administration official, that official has been compelled to resign quickly.  The small number of Obama Administration “scandals” that Republicans have managed to cook up – such as Solyndra – have turned out to be big nothingburgers.  And a review of President Obama’s speeches and the White House and campaign websites show that, for the most part, the Obama Administration tries to do what it says it is going to do.

There are numerous reasons to re-elect President Obama. One of the biggest is the issue of honesty.  The Obama Administration has an overall good record with regards to honesty.  Over this Presidential campaign, however, Mitt Romney has shown that he does not even seem to be acquainted with the concept of honesty.  History shows just how risky it is to gamble with putting someone as mendacious as Mitt Romney in the White House.

If you share our concerns with Mitt’s mendacity,  share the Obama campaign video below calling Romney out for his lies at the Denver debate.

Pink Slip Mitt Romney Admits He Disdains Nearly Half of the US

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

As has been widely reported, Mitt Romney revealed his disdain for 47% of Americans during a $50,000 per person campaign fundraiser held at the mansion of Marc Leder, a controversial private equity hedge fund manager.   A secretly recorded video of the event shows Pink Slip Mitt saying, among other things:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. . . . . [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Unpacking this statement a bit, Romney essentially categorized the nearly half of Americans who benefit from social programs and/or pay no federal income taxes as moochers who are failing to take personal responsibility for their own lives.  And while this statement is phrased more harshly than what Romney typically says in public, it is consistent with the Romney/Ryan campaign’s rhetoric and plans regarding abolishing Medicare, starting down the road to privatizing Social Security, eviscerating Medicaid, etc.

Given that tens of millions of hard-working Americans benefit from sensible and popular government programs, it is important to find out exactly who Romney considers to be a “dependent . . . victim” who needs to be convinced to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” presumably by taking away the benefit they have been received.  As such, in this latest installment of Questions for Mitt Romney, we urge reporters, debate moderators, and voters to ask and demand answers from Romney and his campaign on the following questions:

* Is an 89 year old with late stage dementia who relies on Medicare to pay for her medical care  a “dependent victim”?  Should that dementia patient be deprived of the guaranteed coverage of Medicare so that she can instead “take personal responsibility” by seeking insurance in the private market?

* Are our service members who return home from Iraq or Afghanistan with physical, mental, and/or emotional injuries that necessitate the use of the Veteran’s health benefits or disability compensation failing to “take personal responsibility”?

* Is the parent who works two minimum wage jobs yet still needs food stamps to make ends meet and Medicaid/CHIP to ensure her child has health care failing to “take personal responsibility”?

* Is the young adult who uses federal student loans to be able to afford to be the first person in her family to attend college failing to “take personal responsibility”?

* Is the senior citizen who uses his Social Security benefits to help him be able to afford to stay in his own home failing to “take personal responsibility”?

* Is the laid off factory worker who collects unemployment benefits to make sure her family does not become homeless while she is looking for a new job failing to “take personal responsibility”?

Conservatives are correct that the number of people who receive government benefits of some sort has increased considerably over the past 50 years, and spiked over the past few years.  But those increases are not a sign that Americans are somehow too dependent on government or failing to take personal responsibility.  Instead, the increase is due to three facts.  First, we realized in the days of the New Deal and Great Society that individuals, our economy, and our society are better off when we have a basic social safety net and government efforts to support a strong middle class through Social Security, Medicare, etc.  As such, we expanded and strengthened those programs to serve additional people who need the assistance. Second, the vulture capitalism practiced by companies like Bain Capital caused many middle class Americans to lose their job security and pensions, thereby forcing them to turn to Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs to help sustain our middle class.  Third, conservative economic policies led to the Bush Recession in 2008, which created a short term spike in people needing food stamps, unemployment benefits, etc.  Romney’s alternative explanation that nearly half of Americans are just irresponsible victims who do not take personal responsibility is offensive and disconnected from reality.

Romney’s statement regarding 47% of Americans paying no federal income tax is similarly off-base.  Romney should be required to answer the following questions about that statement:

* Do you realize that those 47% pay other taxes besides income taxes, including sales tax, property tax, payroll taxes, etc.?  Does the payment of such taxes rule these 47% out of the category of people focused on dependency and victim hood rather than on independence and personal responsibility?

* If payment of income taxes is a sign of personal responsibility rather than dependency, what does that say about the fact that you paid only 13.9% in taxes in 2010, while most working people pay a higher rate?

* Do you believe that taxes should be raised on the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax?  Would raising these people’s taxes make them less focused on dependency and victim hood and more focused on independence and personal responsibility?

* Do you believe that big corporations and billionaires who pay little to no federal taxes and/or who benefit from federal programs should similarly be categorized as entities more interested in dependency and victim hood rather than independence and personal responsibility?  If so, what specific loopholes or tax increases would you propose to ensure that corporations and billionaires contribute their fair share? And what specific programs would you end or curtail to ensure that big corporations and billionaires are not becoming dependent victims?

There is no doubt that we can and should be having as part of the 2012 Presidential campaign a careful debate about where government social programs are headed, how much we should spend on them, who should be enrolled, who should pay, etc.   Romney’s statement at the fundraiser, however, shows that he is not the person to lead such a debate in a serious and productive way.  Instead, as with his opportunistic grandstanding on the Libya embassy attacks, Romney’s crass dismissal of 47% of Americans shows that he is simply not qualified to be President of a nation where the vast majority of people are in far harder economic straights than Romney ever has been or ever will be.

The Democrats’ Progressive Party Platform and the Issues at Stake This November

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Somewhat overlooked in the excitement generated by powerful speeches given by Michelle Obama, keynote speaker Julian Castro, Lily Ledbetter, Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA), and others, was the fact that the Democratic Party yesterday also approved a progressive party platform that stands up for Medicare, Social Security, the right to organize, marriage equality, and many of the other policies and values that make this country great.   The contrast with the reactionary platform that the GOP approved at their convention last week illustrates well the fundamental differences between the two parties and the critical issues at stake this November.

Here are some of the highlights from the 2012 Democratic Party platform, and key places where that platform is diametrically opposed to the GOP’s agenda:


The Democratic platform vows to defend Medicare as a guaranteed, universal program for seniors, stating:

Democrats adamantly oppose any efforts to privatize or voucherize Medicare; unlike our opponents we will not ask seniors to pay thousands of dollars more every year while they watch the value of their Medicare benefits evaporate. Democrats believe that Medicare is a sacred compact with our seniors.

By contrast, the Republican platform specifically calls for ending Medicare as a “defined-benefit entitlement” and replacing it with inadequate vouchers.

Worker’s Rights

In an age of increasing attacks on working people and labor unions, it is refreshing to see the Democratic platform include a ringing endorsement of the right to organize, stating:

Democrats believe that the right to organize and collectively bargain is a fundamental American value; every American should have a voice on the job and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay after a hard day’s work. We will continue to fight for the right of all workers to organize and join a union. Unions helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known. Their work resulted in the 40-hour workweek and weekends, paid leave and pensions, the minimum wage and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare – the cornerstones of middle class security. We will fight for labor laws that provide a fair process for workers to choose union representation, that facilitate the collective bargaining process, and that strengthen remedies for violations of the law. We will fight for collective bargaining rights for police officers, nurses, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, teachers, and other public sector workers – jobs that are a proven path to the middle class for millions of Americans. We will continue to vigorously oppose “Right to Work” and “paycheck protection” efforts, and so-called “Save our Secret Ballot” measures whenever they are proposed.  We will raise the minimum wage, and index it to inflation.

By contrast, the GOP platform promises to continue the attacks on labor unions that have been carried out by GOP Governors, and calls ultimately for a national right-to-work-for-less law.

Campaign Finance

The Democratic platform calls for reducing the corrupting influence of money on our political system and echoes President Obama’s recent suggestion that a constitutional amendment to allow us to take back our democracy may be necessary:

We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary. We support legislation to close loopholes and require greater disclosure of campaign spending. . . . . We support requiring groups trying to influence elections to reveal their donors so the public will know who’s funding the political ads it sees.

The GOP platform reiterates that party’s opposition to even such basic steps as the DISCLOSE Act, which would require disclosure of donors to SuperPACs and other groups that try to influence elections.


The Democratic platform sets forth President Obama’s call for billionaires and big corporations to pay more of their fair share, stating:

We support allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire and closing loopholes and deductions for the largest corporations and the highest-earning taxpayers. We are committed to reforming our tax code so that it is fairer and simpler, creating a tax code that lives up to the Buffett Rule so no millionaire pays a smaller share of his or her income in taxes than middle class families do. . . . . The Democratic Party opposes efforts to give additional tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class and investments in our future.

The Republican platform calls for further tax giveaways to the wealthy, including elimination of the estate tax, and consideration of repealing the 16th Amendment, which allows for a federal income tax, in favor of a regressive national sales tax.

Reproductive Freedom

The Democratic platform strongly endorses reproductive freedom, stating:

Democrats support access to affordable family planning services, and President Obama and Democrats will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers.

. . . .

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.

The GOP platform calls for passage of a “human life amendment” to the Constitution, which would apply the 14th Amendment to unborn fetuses and effectively outlaw choice even in cases of rape and incest, and repeats the false claim that abortion “endangers the health and well-being of women.”


The Democratic platform strongly supports equality for women and LGBT Americans, stating:

We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, support the Paycheck Fairness Act, and will urge ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

. . . .

We support the Employment Non- Discrimination Act because people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

. . . .

We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.  We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

The GOP platform describes approval of marriage equality as an “assault on the foundations of our society” and calls for a Constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.

Climate Change

The Democratic platform acknowledges the threat that is climate change and the need for action, stating:

We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation – an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.

The GOP platform is silent on the issue, which I suppose is better than joining Mitt Romney in echoing the false claims of climate deniers.


Party platforms are, of course, not binding documents and, as such, there is no guarantee that the policies set forth in either party’s platform will come to fruition.  But the platforms do provide a good sense of the agenda each party would pursue if they were to be in power, and offer an important look at the values and goals that motivate the people who would assume positions of power if their party wins.  And what the Democratic and Republican platforms shows is that under a Democratic Administration with a Democratic Congress , political debates would revolve around deciding the best ways to enact the types of progressive policies and goals that are set forth above, rather than having to spend four years playing defense on issues like Medicare, choice, LGBT equality, etc. As such, the Democrat’s 2012 platform draws a clear contrast between the retrograde and reactionary policies and values that today’s GOP is offering, and demonstrates well why all of us progressives need to stand up and fight for our President over these next two months.

We Don’t Need a Convention Speech to Know How Mitt “Severe Conservative” Romney Would Govern

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

In a scathing editorial this past weekend, the economically conservative magazine the Economist took Multiple Choice Mitt Romney to task for failing to consistently explain what he believes or detail what he would do if he were elected President:

But competence is worthless without direction and, frankly, character. Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. In some areas, notably social policy and foreign affairs, the result is that he is now committed to needlessly extreme or dangerous courses that he may not actually believe in but will find hard to drop; in others, especially to do with the economy, the lack of details means that some attractive-sounding headline policies prove meaningless (and possibly dangerous) on closer inspection. Behind all this sits the worrying idea of a man who does not really know his own mind.

. . . . . .

A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: nobody knows who this strange man really is. It is half a decade since he ran something. Why won’t he talk about his business career openly? Why has he been so reluctant to disclose his tax returns? How can a leader change tack so often? Where does he really want to take the world’s most powerful country?

While those portions of the editorial are spot on, the Economist then goes off track by claiming that this week’s Republican National Convention provides Romney with “his best chance to say what he really believes” and an opportunity “to show America’s voters that he is a man who can lead his party rather than be led by it.”  This refrain that the Convention provides the Romney with a chance to define himself and his campaign to the American people is a popular one among the chattering classes.  But it is also flatly wrong.

The reality is that we already know who Mitt Romney is – an out-of-touch politician who is either unable or unwilling to stand up to the rabid reactionaries who have taken over the GOP.  No amount of pandering, speechifying, slick videos, or pretending to be a moderate is going to change that reality.

Some moderates and even a few too many progressives continue to try to convince themselves that Romney would govern as a moderate.  But their only support for that belief is Romney’s time as Governor of Massachusetts, where it would have been impossible for Romney to win or govern if he had not acted like a moderate.  Once he left the Governor’s seat in Boston, Romney saw the writing on the wall that his party was taking a sharp rightward turn.  Rather than fight for the moderation that he needed to pursue in Massachusetts or the reality-based centrism that had been championed by his father George Romney in the 1960s, Romney time and time again joined in and encouraged the level of craziness that define today’s GOP.

As we’ve detailed previously, during the Republican Presidential primaries, Romney abandoned all sense of moderation and threw his lot in with the reactionaries.  For example, he supported Paul Ryan’s “marvelous” Austerity Budget, vowed to “get rid of” funding for Planned Parenthood, supported the Blunt Amendmentechoed the false claims of climate deniers’, explained that he wished that Robert Bork were on the Supreme Court, embraced the support of conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, declared Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration law to be a “model” for the nation, promised to veto the DREAM Act, signed the 2012 pledge of the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage, and vowed to abolish ObamaCare on day one of any Romney Presidential Administration.

Since it became clear that Romney would be the GOP’s nominee, some in the media continued to surmise that Romney would move to the center.  But the move never happened.  Romney hasn’t backed away from the positions he took during the primary, nor has he stood up to any of the out-of-the-mainstream groups that make up the base of today’s GOP.  Instead, the Romney campaign has refused to provide virtually any policy details because they believe that doing so would be suicidal.  But Romney did give a speech to the NRA that fed into that organization’s ridiculous conspiracy theory about President Obama’s non-existent threat to the Second Amendment, and gave the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University which does not allow LGBT students and teaches creationism.   And most significantly, Romney granted the wish of conservative activists by picking Paul Ryan, whose reactionary attempts to abolish Medicare and privatize Social Security are matched by his social extremism, to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Over the past year, Romney has shown that either: (1) Romney is a “severe conservative” who truly believes in the retrograde economic, social, and foreign policy views promoted by the reactionaries who have taken over the GOP, or (2) Romney is so lacking in principles and convictions that he is unwilling to stand up to those reactionaries.  Either way, the result is the same.  A Romney Presidency would be doing the bidding of the climate deniers, NRA conspiracy theorists, birthers, anti-immigrant nativists, anti-LGBT bigots, Medicare and Social Security privatizers, and peddlers of the failed economic and foreign policies of George W. Bush who have taken over today’s GOP. No amount of slick packaging or moderate talk during the final day of the Republican National Convention will change that reality.

If you want to make sure that Romney is never in a position to do the reactionaries’ bidding, please write a letter to your local newspaper editor about the real Mitt Romney, and sign up to volunteer for President Obama’s re-election campaign.