Romney Dooms His Candidacy by Doing the Full Murray

Charles Murray’s newest book:  Coming Apart: The State of White America proves two classic truths.  First, it is impossible to compete with self-parody.  Second, be careful what you ask for; for you may receive it.  Charles Murray asked right-wing plutocrats (he dismissed left-wing plutocrats as disloyal to their class and to capitalism) to drop what he derided as “political correctness” and denounce Americans who received governmental support as immoral failures. Murray is a vigorous supporter and flatterer of Mitt Romney, claiming that the fact that he became wealthy at Bain should make him a “slam dunk” for the presidency.  Murray’s reasoning is so crude that he announces a new doctrine – the divine right of CEOs to govern America.  “Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?”

No need to hold elections; simply make whoever tops the Forbes list of wealthiest people the president.  Think of the competitive incentives that rule would create.

Romney and Paul Ryan answered both aspects of Murray’s call of right wing plutocrats to arms.  They embraced Social Darwinism and the view that anyone who received governmental assistance was morally inferior and needed to be denounced.  They agreed with the need to remove the safety net to destroy a “culture of dependency” so that the working class and the poor would be forced to assume personal responsibility and stop being freeloaders.

In adopting the full Murray, Romney has doomed his electoral chances.  His response to a question by a wealth donor as to how he would convince poorer Americans that they needed to adopt “personal responsibility” will become a classic.

“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.

Romney went on: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.””

Romney defines his prospective job as President as “not to worry” about the desires of 47 percent of his fellow Americans.  These people are hopeless moochers whose votes have been bought by Democrats and their social programs.

The nearest analog I can think of was Barry Goldwater’s statement that America would be better off if we cut the “eastern seacoast” off and let it float away into the Atlantic Ocean.  This led to President Johnson’s classic ad of a saw cutting off the eastern seacoast while an announcer read Goldwater’s statement.  The ad then asked the public the question that applies with even greater force to Romney’s admission that he does not worry about the desires of nearly half of all Americans.  “Can a man who makes statements like this be expected to serve all the people, justly and fairly?”  Romney has made clear he has no intention of serving the 47 percent.  Indeed, his position (the full Murray) is that serving their governmental service to the 47 percent is the problem.


Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate
“Eastern Seaboard,” Johnson, 1964

(Sound of metal saw cutting through wood; water rippling)

MALE NARRATOR: In a Saturday Evening Post article dated August 31st, 1963, Barry Goldwater said, “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Can a man who makes statements like this be expected to serve all the people, justly and fairly?

(Sound of wood breaking off; heavy splash)

MALE NARRATOR: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Similarly, Ryan has adopted the full Murray by proposing a plan to remove the social safety net.  At the invitation of the Steamboat Institute’s “Freedom Conference” I debated Dan Mitchell, an economist at Cato on Friday August 25, 2012.  Our primary topic was Paul Ryan’s budget policies.  Dan stressed an August 24 column he wrote entitled “For Once, I Hope Paul Krugman is Right.

Dan’s column quoted what he viewed as the key passage in Krugman’s column.

“In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “‘We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.’”

Dan explained why he hoped Krugman was right about Ryan’s views about the poor.

“To be more specific, I hope Krugman is right in that Ryan wants “to make life harder for the poor” if the alternative is to have their lives stripped of meaning by government dependency. And I agree that it will be “for their own good” if they’re motivated to join the workforce.

The Steamboat attendees (the base of the Republican Party) loved it.  That is the point.  Romney did not make a mistake in explaining his views.  He knew that going the full Murray was the thing that would drive his wealthy right-wing donors open their wallets and provide him billions of dollars (often via the sham “independent” SuperPacs).  He was pandering to plutocrats.  They despise most Americans and they believe they are superior and entitled by their wealth to rule.  They love Murray’s message that their mission should be denouncing less wealthy Americans and ruling the nation through “principled stewardship.”  The full Murray requires the plutocrats and their political representatives to be “openly judgmental” in their denunciations of their inferiors.  In defense of Murray, he stressed that this “openly judgmental” condemnation should also apply to the widespread abuses by financial elites that caused the ongoing financial crisis and the Great Recession.  Because the financial elites who Murray emphasized either committed fraud or stood by silently while their peers did so and produced the crisis are Romney’s principal political donors Romney and Ryan have ignored this aspect of Murray’s message.

“That openly judgmental stand is no longer acceptable in America’s schools nor in many American homes. Correspondingly, we have watched the deterioration of the sense of stewardship that once was so widespread among the most successful Americans and the near disappearance of the sense of seemliness that led successful capitalists to be obedient to unenforceable standards of propriety. Many senior figures in the financial world were appalled by what was going on during the run-up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Why were they so silent before and after the catastrophe? Capitalists who behave honorably and with restraint no longer have either the platform or the vocabulary to preach their own standards and to condemn capitalists who behave dishonorably and recklessly.”

I do not suggest that Murray was being candid in this passage.  Romney was, of course, a top finance guy who was supposed to demonstrate “principled stewardship” but who, instead, exemplified the “near disappearance of the sense of seemliness” and the “silence” about the frauds when his public calls for stopping the epidemic of accounting control fraud could have prevented the financial crisis and the Great Depression.  Romney, under Murray’s test, is a moral failure.  Romney made these revealing comments about the 47% at the fundraiser at the Boca Raton mansion of a man who published reports had shown was a master of slime rather than seemliness.

Romney and Ryan will have to backpedal from Romney’s statements about the 47 percent, but this will disappoint their base because their base believes that Romney’s statements about the 47% and Ryan’s desire to make life more painful for the poor are “on message.”  Romney threw half of America in the trash because it was the best way to raise money from plutocrats who are more extreme in their disdain for Americans than the tea party politicians who pander to them.  The right-wing financial elites despise most Americans.  Remember that Romney knew his audience of plutocrats very well and was deftly playing on their prejudices in order to maximize their contributions.  Romney’s initial non-apology for his dismissal of the 47 percent claimed that he was not “elegant” in his statements, but that is a deliberate effort to divert our attention from the real point.  His consignment of nearly half of all Americans to the trash heap was deliberately crude because his fellow plutocrats love the crudeness of his dismissal of those they see as immoral moochers.  His speech demonstrated perfect pitch for his audience because his plutocratic peers are the only Americans who Romney knows and understands.

This post was originally posted at New Economic Perspectives and the Huffington Post and is reproduced here with permission.

8 Responses to "Romney Dooms His Candidacy by Doing the Full Murray"

  1. Beany from Brooklyn   September 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    The fact is welfare destroys people's will. Witness what happen after President Clinton signed into law welfare reform. Look at the native Indian tribes which have been on welfare for over 60 years and they are a wreck by any standard. The best and most compassionate thing to do is help people short-term (it used to be the churches, synagogues and para religious organizations that did it before the gov't really took over) but also hold them accountable. The gov't is not able to hold people accountable.

    • CR from Texas   September 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

      A wreck is right, but there can be no discounting the systematic thievery that put them there. I believe you would call the thieves who profited from the unsuspecting Indian tribes brilliant capitalists.
      Facts are useful when you can pick and choose which to use.

    • falk burger   September 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

      Yes, let's do look at the tribes whose rates of alcoholism and drug dependency are an abomination. They pay for their alcohol, their drugs and their daily bread with currency bearing the proud portrait of that genocidal madman, Andrew Jackson. You either get it or you don't.

  2. DiranM   September 19, 2012 at 1:25 am

    What Mr. Black is propagating is essentially the Greek model under the Andreas Papandreou years. Make people feel like victims and build yourself as the 'Big Daddy" on bread and circus politics, taking from all those stinky, evil bastards who are successful, giving some crumbs to the masses to keep them happy and putting most of the booty to cronies aka Solyndra. It is the classic banana republic system.

    In Greece, this model did not turn out too well. After years of mind washing and heavy dependency on big pockets like the EU, it is almost impossible to break out of this vicious circle.

    Very appealing to US academia…. BHO is the perfect leader for this school of thought.

  3. Edward Stevens   September 19, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Victimization and entitlement– all that is on offer. Then thought has occured to me that more people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 10 years than at any time in the world's history, and IMO, that is good. I wonder why that has happened (thank you, Deng etc.)

  4. benleet   September 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    In the U.S. half of the workers, 75 million of 150 million, earn only 7% of all total income, and annually less than $26,363 (from the 2010 from the Social Security Administration report on wage income), and the average income for the lower-earning half is less than $11,000 a year. They are the target of Romney's disrespect. The average worker's income for all 150 million workers is around $75,000. The Federal Reserve states that the average contribution per worker to the GDP is $109,000 a year. We have the highest inequality rate in the developed world, it's a well known fact. This is good? We should be proud and simultaneously dismiss those who can't earn a decent level of income? Capitalism drives wage income down unless there is a counter-vailing force like unions. Those who believe that children must work for wage income are regarded as morally deprived. 12 hour days are in the dust bin of history in this country. 28% of the population would be in poverty, but government assistance has reduced that to 15%, and Romney's crowd complains. We need more government jobs, as critics of "moochers" don't know that private sector employment stands at 111 million, the exact same level it stood at in 2000, 12 years ago, while the working age population increased by 31 million or 14%. The majority get it, those cranky loonies like Romney and his cronies just want to cut wages and ship jobs to China where they pay at 4% the U.S. rate. We could lift more people out of poverty, in China and India, etc., if we stopped competing in economic warfare and cooperated with humane respect. Some people are incapable of even imaging such a world.

  5. Alex Clemens   September 26, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Indians??! What a stupid comparison !! I worked in the IT industry till 2002.. When i had a stroke and was diagnosed with Parkinson's. Thank god for SS Disability. i also have or rather used to have a 401k until the 2008 bank crash. Were not talking about Indian's weer talkin about middle class fool

  6. Rob T from Illinois   September 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I would take issue with the consistent portrayal in left-wing writing and media, as you have done here, is that when Mitt said “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," it meant that "Romney defines his prospective job as President as 'not to worry' about the desires of 47 percent of his fellow Americans." That, it seems to me, is a total distortion. This was a political fund raiser. He is not the president. He is a candidate. He was portraying what "his job" or what his objective needed to be as a candidate. The point that their are some people who are going to vote for the president no matter what is born out by President Obama's strong support despite the poor economy and the poor record in world affairs. Trying to convince people who are dyed in the wool Democrats to vote Republican or dyed in the wool Republicans to vote Democrat is a waste of resources, so the candidates job is not to worry about those, but to focus on swing voters where the effort will make a difference.

    Another point where there should be little dispute is that in order to increase the standard of living we need to productively engage as many people in activities that create economic value as possible. This is key both to improving the lives of the working as well as improving the safety net for those who are unable to work. A wide variety of opinion exists on what "unable to work" means, but if the definition is too broad and the benefits too large, the economy is unsustainable. If the definition is too narrow or the benefits too small, then the most vulnerable literally die in the streets.

    Finally, I think it is very interesting that before becoming President, Mr. Obama's level of compassion extended to between .4% and 1.4% of his income even on a six figure income before he realized this made him look bad to the electorate. He is very compassionate with the productive resources of others, but seemed to lack personal compassion with his own. Mr. Romney, on the other hand, has a long history of extensive charitable giving, one that is also reflected in the lives of millions of others, both those with 7 and 8 figure incomes like Romney now has (although I am confident he gave many multiples more as a percentage of his income than Obama even when his income was much lower) and those with 5 figure incomes like many. I'd rather have a President whose personal compassion was proven by his giving than one where it seemed driven by by politically expediency.