Sunday, February 05, 2012

Romney's Dukakis Moment?

One can fake many things in life, even an orgasm, but one can't fake military experience. Mitt Romney has never been in the military.

It was also true that a senator from Chicago, Barack Obama, who became a candidate for president had no military experience, but not anymore. Obama has been commander-in-chief for the past three years, and while there are those on both the left and right who oppose some of his policies, the argument that the president is inexperienced is no longer valid.

But, this isn't about defending the president's foreign policy record. This is just to say that his likely Republican challenger doesn't have one.

In his Nevada primary victory speech Saturday, Romney accused the president of "shrinking our national defense," adding that he will "insist on a military so powerful that no one in the world would think of challenging it," but when did Mr. Romney become such a hawk?

One shudders to think of a more powerful military given that, over the past decade or more, the U.S. has immersed itself in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and is currently insinuating its way into Iran. Indeed, one shudders to think of a foreign policy more hawkish than that of the Obama administration.

Also, how did Romney happen upon such a keen understanding of the workings of the Department of Defense?

Romney vows to keep America strong by not cutting the defense budget, but for a man whose entire life, with the exception of four years as governor, was spent in the private sector, what does he know about defense budgets?

Or, for that matter, what does he know about the national debt? To him $3 trillion is a scary big number that's even bigger than the hundreds of millions he has in his various bank accounts.

As a young man back in the 1960's, Romney followed the family tradition of avoiding the military by serving as a Mormon missionary in France at the onset of the war in Vietnam. His sons, like their dad, are avoiding service by helping their dad's campaign, Romney says. He now has the temerity to suggest that he is is better equipped to lead the way on foreign policy than the man who has just spent three plus years as commander-in-chief.

While Romney likes to think of business as his trump card, so to speak, recent coverage of Bain Capital and his tax shelters overseas has driven him into "greener" pastures by working to assure defense contractors that he's got their back.

And, when Romney says he wants to make this "an American century," don't think for a moment that he isn't thinking about Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and others who have received billions in government bailouts over the past few years. This is who he has in mind when he speaks of maintaining a "strong defense" just as when he promises to balance the budget and not raise taxes, Romney means that he won't raise taxes on the rich.

But, you say, an Obama presidency will keep defense contractors and big business happy, too. Yes, it sure does look like we're about to go over a cliff regardless who's at the wheel, but having Obama in the driver seat has meant a sharp turn away from financial catastrophe despite the best efforts of the obstructionist party to push us over, so when Romney talks about fiscal health he means that any government program that doesn't benefit big business is disposable.

Consider what he said in Las Vegas that drew thunderous applause about how the Declaration of Independence promises "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" not "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of government handouts." Those government handouts he has in mind are not the ones that went to Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, or the banks, but the ones that went to single mothers who are heads of household, Planned Parenthood, and health programs that benefit legal immigrants.

Yes, what Romney didn't say was that it's not called a handout when a big corporation accepts government money, but doing business. According to The Huffington Post, one of Bain Capital's affiliates was bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $44 million. Not to mention, too, that companies asssociated with Bain had no problem taking state and local taxpayer subsidies that totaled in the millions.

When Romney told fellow Republicans in Las Vegas that the state's real unemployment is about 15%, it gave him the opportunity to add that Nevada has "had enough of Obama's help." He ought to know a thing or two about wearing out a welcome mat. Masssachusetts had enough of Romney's help when he stepped down as governor.

He said he'd create jobs as president, but thanks to other Republicans running for president, we now know more about Romney's record as head of Bain Capital than he'd like. Arnold Schwarzenegger should join Donald Trump and endorse Mitt Romney as Romney can also be called the Terminator.

As The Boston Globe reported back in 2007, hundreds lost their jobs when Bain Capital took over companies that were buried in debt, like Ampad, making millions off their losses. More importantly, as governor, Romney fought against raising the minimum wage. You can count on him to do the same as president.

But, enough about Bain Capital. Newt Gingrich has already managed to deflate that balloon, and play the leveraged buyout card, so Romney's next move may well be away from his job deflation policies and into a domain about which he knows even less: foreign policy.

Watching his victory speech about a strong defense reminded me of another Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, whose Democratic campaign for president against Republican George H.W. Bush essentially fell apart when a photograph of him sitting atop a military tank hit the airwaves. What chutzpah many thought back then for a New England liberal to pose as a military hawk. But, remember, Governor Dukakis served in the Army. He wasn't a missionary in France for three years at the height of the Vietnam war.

Also, Governor Dukakis was elected for two terms as governor of Massachusetts. Indeed, Dukakis was the longest serving governor in that state's history. Under criticism by the George H.W. Bush campaign for a flaccid stance on defense, his opponents seized on Dukakis's opposition to the death penalty, as well as his veto of a bill that would have required that children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts' classrooms. So, during his visit to a General Dynamic plant when he was the Democratic nominee for president, Dukakis strove to counter the image that he was weak on defense by mounting a tank.

The image of "Dukakis in the tank," as it came to be known, was not only synonymous with a public relations nightmare, but of arrogance. Is it any less arrogant for Mitt Romney, a man who repeatedly touts his background in the private sector as his main selling point in a weak economy, to challenge the defense record of a sitting president who has weathered not one, not two, but three theaters of war?

All the focus on how Gov. Romney has managed to escape paying millions of dollars in federal taxes through the Cayman Islands, now defunct Swiss bank accounts, and opening businesses in his son's name has managed to deflect attention away from the obvious: Romney understands a cash field in the Cayman Islands better than a land mine in Afghanistan.

The closest Mitt Romney has come to making foreign policy was when he deposited money into one of his offshore accounts.

Curiously, too, Dukakis's nemesis, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, whose campaign tag line was "Read my lips, no new taxes." In Nevada, Mitt Romney said he will balance the budget without raising taxes. Neither Bush nor Romney has any credibility on that score as the only one who would have been capable of balancing the budget without raising taxes is Harry Houdini. The question isn't whether or not taxes will be raised, and on whom. The 2012 presidential and congressional election will decide that.

The Republican soon-to-be nominee chose corporate service after returning from his conveniently timed stint as a missionary during the Vietnam war days unlike the president who chose community service instead. It's true, President Obama didn't see battle either, except as commander-in-chief for the past three years, and unless the Romney campaign has a death wish they should stay away from challenging Mr. Obama's record as commander-in-chief.

If corporations are people, too, as Mitt Romney is fond of saying, how is it that they've managed to escape serving their country? If corporations are people, and he's sincere about making this an "American century," then the Romney camp should come up with a plan to draft corporations for military service.