Much has changed since I wrote the first post on this topic. The biggest being that wealthy Republican financier Willard Milton "Mitt" Romney may well be the next president. Between the hard-core right, the duhs-and-ignos, and the whites who hate that black man in the White House more than anything, it could well happen. And don't forget the huge post-Citizens United money and vote suppression favoring the GOP. Disappointment in the incumbent is substantive — but enough to turn the country over to this man and this bunch? Possibly.
I want to attempt to get beyond the horse race or debate analysis to contemplate a Romney presidency. So, a few thoughts:
The man is frighteningly opaque. We've been conditioned to believe "all politicians lie." Maybe so. But I can't think of a presidential candidate in my lifetime who has held so many different and conflicting positions. Not evolving or changing one's mind when the facts change, but cynical shape-shifting to close the deal. Anything to win. Even if this doesn't reveal a dangerous sociopath, we must ask: Who is this man? The hard right doesn't care; it has given him a pass to play "Moderate Mitt" just to defeat Obama. But does "Moderate Mitt" really exist? Or was that merely the calculus of a man who won one term as governor in blue Massachusetts ("my state" as he always says in debates, creepily avoiding saying the state's name). Is it the lazy fantasy of the mainstream media that also had a misplaced crush on the "maverick," wealthy Republican John Sidney McCain III.
Romney had burnished his credentials as a "businessman." First of all, he was not a businessman as most people would understand the term. He was a private-equity financier and "consultant." Much of his business was buying companies, loading them up with debt, then milking them for "management consulting fees" while the hapless venture was forced to lay off workers and shutter operations in a desperate effort to repay the loans. Bain was a pioneer in outsourcing and offshoring, as well. He is a poster boy for the looting and financialization that has done so much damage to the American economy. Even if he were a businessman, little in our history shows that this is good preparation for the presidency, particularly of the populous, diverse, complex and continental empire we have become. Warren Harding and George W. Bush were businessmen.
Enough is clear to make this prediction: Elect Romney and America will reach a watershed. This will not mean the relatively modest moves to the left or right seen in most of the post-World War II era, even allowing that since the 1970s liberalism has been in decline and "conservatism" in the ascendancy. The election of 2012 will be to the right what 1932 was to liberals. A while back I asked, who are the Whigs? If Romney wins, it will be the Democrats — and rightly so.
Romney did not select Paul Ryan for his Eddie Munster good looks. And the Ryan budget implemented will utterly change the relationship of the federal government to the people. This will be quickly felt by the poor and by cities. Fulfilling the GOP vendetta against "handouts" to the 47 percent, public broadcasting, Amtrak and transit is just the start. Ryan is callow but wildly respected, and he really believes the Ayn Rand law-of-the-jungle. Romney is a rich man who was one of the "if it ain't broke, break it" Jack Welch types that has wrecked our society and twisted our values.
Over time, it will be felt everywhere, except among the well-off. How else can they get the trillions more they want for the military and only gradually erode Medicare and Social Security? (To act quickly on those "entitlements" would be suicide, but the sell-job will be much savvier than W's "I got political capital to spend" effort to privatize Social Security). Long-term, the social contract will be torn up. Your social contract will be a job, if you can get one, your family and your church. Otherwise, tough luck.
But wouldn't a Democratic Senate act as a check? No. For one thing, the GOP is smart and ruthless enough to use reconciliation around a filibuster. Also, the Democrats will remain divided and unwilling to damage the country to destroy the president, as the Republicans have been with Mr. Obama.
A Romney administration will also bring new experiments with Southern theocracy. Say goodbye to Roe v. Wade and reproductive choice. Science will be gone from government. Remember, the goal of today's Republican Party is not merely repealing the New Deal and Great Society, but the Nixon administration (the EPA, clean air and water acts, etc. etc.). It's about repealing some of the great accomplishments of American history: Public schools are now evil government schools. There's plenty to loot, privatize and wreck, while praying to the god of the "free market" and "liberty."
America will go looking for fights in the world. If you're not happy with Mr. Obama on drones, Gitmo, etc. — just wait. Most of Romney's national security team are neocon retreads from the W. years. We will find hot wars. We might be unpleasantly surprised at the outcome. So, too, from our inaction on climate change and eagerness to burn off as much fossil fuel as possibly as quickly as we can.
Still, if Romney wins, the flim-flam of anxiety over brown people, debt, "socialism" and a changing world in general might keep him in power for two terms, to be followed by even more extreme versions. The economy is recovering now, so whomever comes in January will probably see a modest lift. The What's the Matter With Kansas crowd won't die out soon and the GOP-dominated Supreme Court and state legislatures can keep the rightward tilt going quite a while.
I don't see how it ends well. Is America stupid enough to make this choice?