31 August 2012

Romney's Success

Clint Eastwood must have been a hard act to follow, if only because many were still trying to figure out the point of the auteur's presentation while Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for President of the United States. While Eastwood's purpose may have been to refute once and for all the claim that his Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler had been an endorsement of the Obama administration, Romney's was to convince voters to return the White House to Republicans four years after George W. Bush slunk out. Proving that President Obama had failed the country would not be as difficult as proving that the GOP had once again become worthy, even though Americans tend to think in terms of people rather than parties. They must still remember that Bush was a Republican, governed as one and that Republicans think and govern alike on most issues. Romney, however, meant to present himself as something different from Bush, without seeking comparisons with him. So he portrayed himself, as everyone expected, as a successful businessman, whether or not people recalled that Bush was famously unsuccessful in business. At the same time, the nominee injected a note of realism about his vocation, mainly to rebuke a supposed ignorance or naivete on his opponent's part.

That's what this President doesn't seem to understand. Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving. It is about dreams. Usually, it doesn't work out exactly as you might have imagined. Steve Jobs was fired at Apple. He came back and changed the world. It's the genius of the American free enterprise system – to harness the extraordinary creativity and talent and industry of the American people with a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow's prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today's.

It was unclear what Romney thought Obama didn't understand about this. Does he suppose that Barack Obama doesn't understand striving and dreaming? In fact, Romney may assume just that, given his belief that "experience in a business," which Obama notoriously lacks, is a "basic qualification" for leadership of any kind in this country. Of course, depending on what one means by "business," many a Founding Father might appear similarly disqualified, many of them being farmers or self-employed lawyers. To get at what Romney may have been thinking, we should probably cast a wide net. He most likely assumes that Obama, and liberals in general, don't understand the inevitability of failure and the necessity of resilience. In Romney's mind, I suspect, his own side stands for "If at first you don't succeed, try try again," while the other side vainly tries to forbid losing, or else assumes that the first failure entitles someone to permanent government aid. Romney may suspect that the liberal stupidly finds it all unfair and wants to change immutable rules. Such an assumption may explain the popular Republican charge that Democrats hate "success."

"[T]he centerpiece of the President's entire re-election campaign is attacking success," Romney said in Tampa, "Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression? In America, we celebrate success, we don't apologize for it." What does Romney suppose that Obama thinks the successful have to apologize for? He doesn't say, of course, and can't explain why anyone would do something so strange as "attacking success." The nominee himself certainly can't imagine the President thinking to himself, "I hate success!" So what does Romney mean by accusing Obama of attacking it? On the most literal level, he may be recalling Obama's infamous "you didn't build that" speech and assuming that any failure to maximize the credit given to original individual initiative, to the entrepreneur or the idea man, is to attack that worthy's success. Beyond that, the most obvious "success" under attack by the Obama campaign and its surrogates is Romney's at Bain Capital, which Romney himself admitted was and could only have been partial at best, since "no one ever is [always successful] in the real world of business." Romney wants us to appreciate his record at Bain as an overall success, yet finds it under attack. This he characterizes as "attacking success." Since the Obama camp isn't attacking the Bain record as a "success," we're left with two possible interpretations of Romney's protest. First, and most faithful to his own intentions, is the assumption that Obama is misrepresenting success as something else out of ignorance or malice. The other option is to assume that whatever Obama is actually criticizing (or "attacking") counts as "success" in Romney's mind. The difference may seem subtle but could be significant. It really depends on how we are to appraise objectively Romney's or anyone else's business practices, whether "success" as defined by the entrepreneur or his political advocate trumps any other interpretation of those practices. Romney has now told us, in effect, that we cannot criticize his practices, or question his "success" simply because some of his risks were unsuccessful and people lost their jobs. A case can be made for that position, since I suppose no one can feel entitled to having one job for life these days. But I also suppose that people who lost jobs under the stewardship of Bain Capital can demand more of an explanation than "them's the breaks," and have a right to determine whether there was good reason for them to lose their livelihoods. It's one thing, after all, to admit that adversity in life is probably inescapable. But to the extent that adversity is man-made, even within the "natural" environment of the Market, there ought to be a principle of accountability that is not dismissed as an attack on success. That principle wouldn't presume the boss guilty when people are laid off, but it wouldn't presume him innocent, either. I don't know if Romney recognizes such a principle, or a standard separate from business standards of "success." I'm more certain that he can't or won't imagine business being held accountable to such a standard. Consider his exercise in sympathy with the downtrodden of the last four years:

[D]uring these years, you worked harder than ever before. You deserved it because when it cost more to fill up your car, you cut out movie nights and put in longer hours. Or when you lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, you took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits. You did it because your family depended on you. You did it because you're an American and you don't quit. You did it because it was what you had to do. But driving home late from that second job, or standing there watching the gas pump hit 50 dollars and still going, when the realtor told you that to sell your house you'd have to take a big loss, in those moments you knew that this just wasn't right.
But what could you do? Except work harder, do with less, try to stay optimistic. Hug your kids a little longer; maybe spend a little more time praying that tomorrow would be a better day.

What could you do? All you can do is sacrifice, think positive and work harder, while it's up to the entrepreneurs and the politicians -- or preferably a mating of the two -- to make your life better. These people Romney's imagining can't even start their own businesses, apparently. More to the point, they certainly can't assert any control over the resources of the nation so that they (the resources and the people) can be put to more productive use. They can't prevent price hikes. They can't prevent layoffs. And, as Romney says, they can't quit. But the problem with the country today isn't anyone quitting. It may be that, in some respects, the American people haven't even gotten started.


Aaron Christiansen said...

It's a shame Romney wasn't visiting some business pals in NJ. Maybe he could have shared in the "success" of the limited scale amoklauf.

Aaron Christiansen said...

Romney's success is based on the forced failure of others. His pay derived from cutting out the pay of his fellow Americans by destroying their jobs.

Destructive Creativity is a lie, an obfuscation used by capitalist pigs like Romney to justify their repeated attacks on the working class.