Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

01 November 2012

Consequences of Mitt Winning


Introduction
The enigma of Mitt
Likely consequences we now can see
  • 1. Campaign finance and election reform will die.
  • 2. Driving and electric power will get more expensive.
  • 3. Coal will be king again.
  • 4. Independent news will suffer and may die.
  • 5. The global economy may falter.
  • Conclusion

    Introduction

    “Elections have consequences,” Dubya said. He said it as he shamelessly overplayed a razor-thin mandate, which some would say the Supreme Court gave him by stopping the recounts in Florida. He said it as he gave us two needless wars, both off budget, converted the world’s sympathy after 9/11 into astonishment and scorn at our national incompetence, turned a gigantic surplus into gigantic deficits, and led a bubble economy into the greatest crash since 1929.

    It would have been hard to predict all these national disasters in advance, at least precisely. But a few smart people and many pundits had worried about Dubya’s self-evident deficiencies in brains. The signs of imminent catastrophe were there for anyone to read, engraved in Dubya’s limited intelligence, inability to speak English well, and childishly simplistic ideology.

    And so they are today. According to recent polls, the presidential election is a dead heat. That means we have an even chance of losing our Republic this year, in 2012.

    It won’t be the end of the world, as the Mayans are supposed to have predicted. But for all practical purposes it will be the end of us.

    Culturally, if not geographically, we will separate ourselves from our distinguished British heritage—and from Canada. We will join South America as another banana republic, run by our very own four hundred super-rich families. We will be lucky indeed if we can be as prosperous, egalitarian and well-governed as Brazil or Chile.

    I want to get this prediction down as clearly as possible before the election, so that no one could accuse me of tasting sour grapes if Obama loses.

    If fact, the grapes are already spittingly sour. Even a win by the President might only retard a catastrophic decline already well under way, unless it accompanied significant cultural change.

    Culture trumps both law and politics. In fact, it trumps almost everything. The fact that we are still fighting the Civil War in this election, 147 years after it supposedly ended, is proof of that. And led by such paragons of intelligence and grace as Rush and Fox, our national culture has been putrefying for three decades. A second term for Obama would give us a chance to reverse the trend, nothing more.

    The enigma of Mitt

    It’s not just that Mitt’s four years in elected office would make him the least experienced president in American history, if you count our general-presidents’ military command experience. Mitt would have 33% less experience in elected office than Dubya, who got us where we are today!

    It’s not just that no rational person, except maybe Mitt’s closest friends and confidants, can have the faintest idea what he would do or be in office. His numerous flip-flips and salesman’s spiels [1, 2 and 3], intended to whitewash his earlier extremism, leave him a complete enigma. He’s a Rorschach blot on which hopeful voters can project their own political desires, whether they be radical Tea Partiers or the last remaining GOP moderates.

    It’s not just that, if Mitt wins, he will have won in a way that belies all the premises of democracy. He would have prevailed using deliberate, systematic propaganda financed by immense private fortunes with, in many cases, absolute secrecy as to who is paying the piper. This is the first post-Citizens United election, but the magnitude of that catastrophic judicial blunder is already apparent. A recent Frontline special on PBS showed how impractical and unenforceable is the line the Court tried to draw between “free speech” (i.e., money) for “issues” and “candidates.”

    It’s not just that Mitt will have prevailed with an all-attack strategy, having bashed the President relentlessly and having disclosed no significant policy details of his own. If he wins, our future will depend on how—or whether!—he puts his vague promises and contentless five-point plans into action, including his promises and plans to avoid new wars.

    It’s not any one of these things. It’s all of them together, at once.

    The recent Frontline special focused on Montana, but it was a metaphor for our democracy’s decline. Very rich people with their own personal agendas can, while hiding in secrecy, recruit unknown and untried political newbies to challenge grizzled incumbent pols and win. In Montana, they did precisely that, by deluging an unsuspecting public with attack ads shortly before the election.

    If Mitt wins, they will have done the same thing to our entire nation, with only one minor difference. He has some experience, although his four years in elective office would put him at the very bottom of our presidential list.

    Likely consequences we now can see

    In 2008, I did my best to compare the candidates based on their records, not their words. I posted detailed comparisons of Barack Obama’s record with those of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. I like to think that these spare, factual comparisons, with links to news sources, motivated some readers to make the right choice in each case, as voters eventually did.

    But I can’t do that with Mitt. Why? Because Mitt and his rich backers have made him a complete enigma. The only unambiguous achievement in his entire political career is Massachusetts’ health-insurance reform, which is a dead ringer for so-called “Obamacare.” But he now disclaims that.

    As for his statements, well, his salesman’s performance in the presidential debates just repudiated all of his well-documented primary-campaign extremism, either directly or by implication. So where does that leave him? In never-never land.

    Mitt’s has been a “trust-me” campaign from start to finish. He wants us to trust him when he says our current difficulties are all the President’s fault, although he tried to hide Dubya so we would forget Dubya ever existed. Now Mitt wants us to trust that he has realistic plans to make things better, although he consistently refuses to provide any details or substance. And he wants us to trust that even if he “knows what it takes” to do so, he has the competence and skill to pull his plans off despite a skeptical Congress and an even more skeptical world. [search for “three times”]

    Mitt’s entire campaign is a tribute to our national hucksters’ culture and our Pavlovian conditioning to clever sales pitches. It is only by dint of superb salesmanship in a salesman’s nation that Mitt is even in this race, let alone neck and neck with the President.

    But even Mitt the Chameleon couldn’t cover all his tracks. He left us a few clear signposts. If he wins, certain consequences are likely, unless he changes his mind and his direction once again. Here are the likely consequences of Mitt winning, based on the very few things he’s said and stuck by:

    1. Campaign-finance and election reform will die. There will be no movement in the Executive for campaign or election reform of any kind. Why? The broken system we have now will have put Mitt in office. Big Money in bad attack ads, most of it anonymous, have led voters to forget Mitt’s unprecedented inexperience and flip-flopping and buy his “trust me” pitch. Ditto for private-media demagoguery, especially at Fox. Mitt also will have benefited, at the margins, from mostly unsuccessful attempts to suppress poor people’s and minorities’ votes.

    Since all these things will have helped Mitt to power, do you think he will use his Executive power to fight them? Not a chance. A Romney Department of Justice will become a Department of Injustice, just like Karl Rove’s.

    If the Supreme Court continues on its present absolutist course, it may take a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. No such effort can even begin without solid presidential support. And you can be absolutely certain that Mitt will provide none as president. He likes things just as they are, and he will appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will make sure they stay that way.

    2. Driving and electric power will get more expensive. Mitt has said [last paragraph] that he would approve the Keystone pipeline project on day one. He says that doing so will lower oil and gasoline prices. But Keystone’s effect will be exactly the opposite.

    It’s now clear what the ulterior motive of the Keystone project is. Big Fossil wants to bring heavy crude from Canada to our Gulf-Coast refineries so that it can export our light, sweet crude from “fracked” wells in North Dakota, in order to globalize oil prices.

    Big Fossil also wants to do the same thing with natural gas. It wants to build liquifying plants and export liquified natural gas to Europe and Asia.

    Why the rush to export our priceless natural heritage? Prices for oil and natural gas are higher abroad than here—about 18% higher for oil and five times higher for natural gas. So Big Fossil wants to export our fossil fuels in order to equalize prices at home and abroad at higher levels.

    In short, Big Fossil wants to globalize fossil-fuel prices, destroying our longstanding national price isolation and, with it, our cheap energy. That’s why the proposed pipeline is called “Keystone”: it’s the key to greater profits for Big Fossil. If you like our globalized labor market, you’ll love Mitt’s plan to globalize oil and natural-gas prices.

    But that’s not all. By raising the price of our domestic “fracked” gas more quickly than natural exhaustion of our reserves would, this plan would kill our best chance of making a smooth and relatively painless transition to renewable energy. It would stick us with fossil fuels—and nothing else—while global demand makes their prices skyrocket and China, Germany and Japan beat us at making cheaper renewables work.

    3. Coal will be king again. In the second presidential debate, Mitt all but groveled to the coal industry, lauding it as a source of cheap energy and a job creator. The President didn’t even mention coal, although it’s well known that he favors continuing research toward a hail-Mary pass of carbon sequestration.

    In a just a few years, our coal burning has dropped from over one-half of our electric power to 32%, the same as natural gas. That’s a remarkable achievement. Its causes were (1) the low price of natural gas, (2) its relatively low greenhouse-gas emissions, and (3) a new Obama-Administration rule that coal plants have to match natural-gas plants in carbon emissions, which they can do only if they sequester carbon.

    If Mitt wins, Big Fossil’s plan to globalize and raise natural-gas prices will gather steam. He will undoubtedly repeal the new coal-plant rule, which he can do as president without Congress’ approval. And we all know how skeptical Mitt is of global warming and the dangers of greenhouse gases.

    So every one of the three reasons for coal’s decline will disappear. Coal will resurge, and progress toward renewable power in China, Germany and Japan may falter. Air pollution and acid rain will increase, and global warming will accelerate. Storms like Sandy will become more common. At a minimum, our nation will have lost the chance to lead the world in this crucial area of species survival.

    4. Independent news will suffer and may die. Another of Mitt’s few unambiguous debate promises was to kill federal funding for PBS. That might not kill PBS itself because it has many private donors. The independent source of news might still survive, but with reduced size and scope.

    The purpose and effect of this change is crystal clear even now. Mitt wouldn’t even be in the running without massive propaganda support from privately owned and operated media like Fox. If PBS gets sick or dies, it won’t be just Big Bird that suffers. Our only independent source of high-quality broadcast journalism, analogous to Britain’s BBC, will suffer or die too.

    Do you think Fox or another for-profit news source could or would have produced an exposé of the utterly corrupting effect of Citizens United like the recent Frontline special? Not a chance. Our private media, which depend on the hands that feed them, will give us only the corporate and GOP party lines. They like Citizens United because it lets them use their money to mislead and control us, just as the four hundred families do in South America.

    5. The global economy may falter. Mitt’s clearest and strongest promise is to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. Like Mitt’s chin, that threat seems manly. But if it means anything at all, it is likely to stagger the global economy.

    By itself, a presidential declaration that China manipulates its currency does nothing. All it does is allow the president to take retaliatory trade action against China, if he later wishes. But it’s only a first step. So Mitt’s declaration alone might be a bit of empty political theater, of which we’ve seen so much from the GOP recently.

    Like all Republicans, Mitt believes in free trade and globalization, of energy prices as well as everything else. So it’s possible he might do nothing more than make his declaration and hope the rubes will believe him when he later says he kept his promise. Or he might make some symbolic gestures to please the rubes, which would not even budge the needle of US-China trade.

    But if Mitt does more, he would set the crucial US-China trade relationship on a path of mutual protectionism and global calamity.

    Think about that. Our Smoot-Hawley tariffs, along with Allied sanctions on Germany for starting World War I, helped cause the Great Depression and World War II. A trade war or escalating protectionism between the world’s first and second economies would be catastrophic to economic growth and global stability.

    But even that’s not all. A trade or even real war might erupt between between China and Japan—the world’s second and third economies, respectively—over the Daioyu/Senkaku Islands and marine resources. If that happened, we would have a perfect economic storm, a financial catastrophe to make Hurricane Sandy seem tame. A Romney presidency would increase the chances of that happening as he jockeyed for national advantage rather than global stabilization. Mitt is playing with fire here.

    Conclusion

    Will all these things happen if Mitt gets elected? Maybe not. They get less probable as you go down the list. They follow logically and practically from Mitt’s promises, but we have no way of knowing whether those promises, like virtually all that Mitt has said so far, are just hot air.

    So we’re left with the irreducible enigma and risk of Mitt. He might really be better and smarter than he seemed during the year-long primary campaign. He might not do all the horrible things that he promised to do in his primary pander to extremists. He might not even do the things on this list, which reflects his most recent promises. He might really “know what it takes” to make everything better. And, despite his failure to show it in his year-long campaign, he might actually have the political and diplomatic skill to pull his formless plans off.

    But suppose he does what he said he would do with the intent he wanted his audience (each time) to believe. Then his presidency will be catastrophic, comparable to Dubya’s. Because he can speak English and sound reasonable, it might even be worse. He might enjoy enough credibility to slip disastrous radical changes by a sleeping electorate.

    And if he doesn’t do what he promised so recently and emphatically, then what in the hell do we know about our possible future president? All together now, can we chant “pig in a poke”?

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    2 Comments:

    • At Fri Nov 02, 03:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Maqx said…

      My feeling is that on November 7th, the financiers of the modern GOP are going to be asking themselves what is it with the national election that money could not buy? (Maybe those images of Obama and Christie would have something to do with it?)

      Mitt will finally get to FIRE everyone that he no longer needs on his campaign staff and Rove and gang will be on the carpet whining about how they did the best they could but if only they had another few hundred million to throw around and how it would be nice if they could have some plutocrats outright buy another TV network to help FOX along...

      Both parties will be amazed at what the American public is capable of when roused to action. They can fool a lot of us, but they can't fool all of us. We still have the choice of choosing what we watch, read, and see out on the streets of America everyday.

       
    • At Tue Nov 13, 11:02:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

      Dear Maqx,

      You nailed it! Sorry to post your incisive (and predictive!) comment so late.

      I’m traveling and was packing during the pre- and post-election rush. My wife and I wanted to be abroad just in case we needed to seek political asylum. (Just kidding.)

      I’m overjoyed that both Mitt and Rove seem done forever. I haven’t paid much attention to either since election night.

      But my wife informs me that your prediction was spot on. Sound and sane Republicans are finally coming out of the woodwork to condemn Destroyer Rove, our own American Beria, for turning the Grand Old Party into the Party of Extremists, Bullies and Slime.

      You have to ask yourself where they all were before the election. But I guess better late than never.

      A two-party system like ours can’t survive without a credible, rational opposition party. So although I doubt I’d ever vote Republican (I might have to think about Huntsman), I hope the reform and rebuilding begins soon. Today’s GOP has become a travesty of louts and lies.

      Best,

      Jay

       

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