Romney’s debate performance on Wednesday, October 3, 2012, was a calculated and deliberate reversal of his most extreme beliefs for a quick political gain. Many people commended his performance. What we must fully understand is that what he did during the debate was a performance and absolutely nothing more. He knew that above all the Presidential Debate is a television show. Thus, he came on the stage and delivered a performance which was full of sound and fury, but ultimately signified nothing except his persistent deceptiveness and pervasive dishonesty. The threat inherent in this event is that an artful performance may succeed in duping sufficient voters to enable Mitt Romney to secure the presidency.
Make no mistake, if Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress are elected, they’ll cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires while waging an assault on the middle class. On Wednesday, October 3, 2012, Mitt made his choice — he got up on stage last night, shook the President’s hand, and then deliberately and relentlessly misled the American people. For months now, Romney and the Republicans have campaigned in a blatantly deceptive manner that is so mendacious as to be unprecedented. The debate performance was a continuation and intensification of this practice. It is hard to know where to begin in calling out this deluge of prevarication, but health care is as good a place as any.
As Paul Krugman observes, “What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.” Romney asserted that under his proposal people could not be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Insofar as he is referring to anything that is actually the case, it is not a part of his proposal. The stipulation on pre-existing conditions is the law of the land for people “with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job — as long as they keep paying the premiums.” This is far from perfect and it is not what anyone ever meant when they speak of requiring coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. Because fewer and fewer people are able to find jobs with health insurance coverage, the existing requirement is even weaker than it seems on the surface. The number of Americans who actually would be denied health care coverage under Romney’s approach ranges from 45 million to 89 million. The higher number, by the way, is more than a third of Americans under 65 years of age. [See: Paul Krugman: Misleading Mitt]
The extent to which Romney will go in deceptiveness regarding health care is even worse than the foregoing implies. He contended that he wanted the Massachusetts’ approach to be the model for the nation on a “state-by-state” basis, but he hides the fact that his proposals make this impossible. First, he wants to eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales and this would deprive states of regulatory power. Second, he plans to block grant Medicaid and this would make the arrangements enabling the Massachusetts model a thing of the past. The other states would be unable to replicate it and Massachusetts may not be able to sustain it. Romney is both lying about the implication of his proposals and he is taking credit for something he will kill as a viable approach if these proposals are implemented. His states’ rights alternative is not only deficient, but it will be impossible if he does what he has repeatedly vowed to do. This must be a new low for gross dishonesty.
Beyond his deceptions and distortions regarding health care generally, Romney continued his outright lying regarding Medicare. “Over and over again, Romney attacked Obama because the Affordable Care Act reduces Medicare spending by $716 billion. As you probably know by now, Paul Ryan’s budget made the exact same cut. And less than a year ago, Romney was praising this budget to the hilt.” Furthermore, the Obama reductions are redeployed to increase and improve health coverage in many ways, but the Ryan reductions are used for more tax for the wealthy. This twisted presentation is bad enough, but it is even worse if one considers Romney’s repeated promises regarding spending. “Romney’s own budget numbers don’t add up. Remember, he’s promised to cap non-defense spending at 16 percent of GDP. And he’s said he won’t touch Social Security. If he walls off Medicare, too, that would mean even sharper cuts across the board.” If he does what he claims he will do with regard to the $716 billion, every other program must be cut by a third by 2016 and by one half by 2022. “Governor Romney’s budget proposals would shrink non-defense discretionary spending — which, over the past 50 years, has averaged 3.9 percent of GDP and never fallen below 3.2 percent — to 1.8 percent of GDP if Medicare shares in the cuts, and to 1.3 percent of GDP if it does not. [http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3658] Furthermore, the Romney/Ryan approach has been calculated to result in insolvency for Medicare by 2016 in contrast to the Obama approach which extends solvency to 2022 at least. There is so much misrepresentation in any Romney/Ryan discussion of Medicare that it overwhelms all but the most hardy because people are unaccustomed to blatant, pervasive fabrication.
Romney is clearly willing to advocate and accept draconian cuts to programs such as Medicaid and SNAP. Furthermore, he has endorsed the Ryan plan to change Medicare from a guaranteed coverage plan into a guaranteed contribution plan where seniors have a premium support payment and the best wishes of the government regarding their health care coverage. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt that he would make the cuts the math of his budget proposals require because there is no evidence he cares about the hardships these entail for millions of vulnerable Americans.
After that, Romney mentioned “turning programs over to the states.” Here there is real money, particularly if Romney includes Medicaid, which will soon eclipse Medicare as the government’s most expensive health insurance program. But Romney suggested this would work because the states are more efficient. This is his usual nonsense. It implies that the states can spend a lot less on the programs without dramatically reducing services. However, Medicaid already pays less than every other insurance program – public or private. Cutting Medicaid funding would necessarily require reductions to whom or what the program covers. “A year ago, when the House Republicans proposed a similar scheme, a Kaiser Family Foundation report by Urban Institute researchers crunched the numbers and determined that the Medicaid cut would mean between 14 and 27 million people would lose health insurance.” Furthermore, because most Medicaid spending goes for the disabled and the elderly, it is likely that these vulnerable groups would bear at least some of the burden of the Romney proposals.
Implicit in Romney’s contention that states can do it better is the hidden history of the misnamed “States’ Rights” argument. In case after case, this perspective has been the excuse for a faction within a state depriving people of rights or denying them equal protection of the laws. The States’ Rights argument has never been used in order to be more just or more generous. Romney’s advocacy of States’ Rights is a clear signal to people who wish to make their prejudices into public policy at least on a state by state basis. This is one of the most threatening aspects of the Romney and Republican campaigns. For the good of all Americans it must be fully recognized and firmly rejected.
Romney did not confine his prevarication to health care topics. He distorted his position on taxes and budgets in shameless fashion. Romney repeatedly took exception to President Obama’s contention that Romney’s tax plan included a $5 trillion tax cut. The figure is correct and reasonable because it is possible to extrapolate from the little Romney has specifically promised. The Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, made the calculations and they determined that the proposed rate cut would cost… $5 trillion. Now Romney has also said, without any detail whatsoever, that he would close loopholes to offset the revenue loss due to rate reductions. Unfortunately, this is mathematically impossible, unless Romney raises taxes on the middle class or lets his tax plan increase the deficit. Romney challenged the work of the Tax Policy Center and sited “six studies” purportedly proving he is right. Two of these are editorials, not studies, and the others are dubious. In fact there are actually only two genuine studies included in the six and these two are debatable at best. Consequently, there are no studies “proving he is right.” This is another example of a lie on top of a lie and while it may be artful in a debate, it is neither informative nor helpful to American voters.
Romney repeated his vow that his tax rate cuts would not add to the deficit. As tax expert Howard Gleckman wrote on after the debate. “And he said high-income households would pay the same share of taxes as they do today. And middle-income people would pay less. So, how will he finance the rate cuts? The poor could pay more, I suppose, though that’s unlikely. The only other solution: The tax cuts would have to pay for themselves by generating a huge increase in economic growth. But these big supply-side effects are implausible at best.” Romney’s contention that President Obama misrepresented his tax plan is a mixture of trickle down pixie dust and a heaping dose of “because I say so.” Nonetheless, it has zero specificity and roughly the same credibility. Unsubstantiated assertions do not prove themselves and wishful thinking will not make fantasy into reality. This closing comment reveals the essence of Romney’s mentality: “What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That’s part one. So there’s no economist can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds 5 trillion (dollars) if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.” In Romney’s mind, his statements magically trump evidence, mathematics, and logical analysis.
After lying about his tax proposals and the purported analysis of these proposals, Romney practiced his deceptive skills in regard to the deficit. He claimed he would reduce the deficit in three ways. First, Romney said, he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act. The problem is that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the health care law reduces the deficit. Repealing it increases the deficit. Romney also said he’d review programs and cut all that are non-essential, singling out PBS. However, PBS is pennies on the budget. It wouldn’t be nearly enough to make a meaningful dent in the deficit, and defunding Planned Parenthood would not significantly lower the deficit either. Even if he spoke truthfully, which is by no means assured, Mr. Romney did not speak seriously regarding deficit reduction.
One of the most brazenly dishonest lines of argument offered by Mr. Romney in the debate was his claim to mastery of bipartisan action as a governor. The story he told of his experience in the Massachusetts State House bore little relation to what actually happened. He said, “As a Republican governor whose legislature was 87 percent Democratic, I figured out from Day 1 I had to get along, and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done.” The result, he said, was that “we drove our schools to be No. 1 in the nation.” Like so many other things he said in the debate and elsewhere his words fail to accurately describe the reality. In actuality bipartisanship was hard to find. Statehouse Democrats report Romney variously ignored insulted or opposed them, except when he launched an occasional charm offensive such as the one displayed in the debate. He vetoed scores of legislative initiatives and excised budget line items a remarkable 844 times, according to the nonpartisan research group Factcheck.org. Romney’s director of legislative affairs, John O’Keefe, observed, “He seemed to take great delight in vetoing bills. Some of the bills we would chuckle when we wrote the veto message.”
In this same effort, Romney falsely claimed credit for changes that led to Massachusetts schools being number one in the nation. Mr. Romney was correct in stating that Massachusetts students were ranked first in the nation during his tenure. However, educators largely credit the overarching reform of state schools Governor Weld ten years earlier. The reforms doubled state spending on schools and brought standards and accountability to administrators and students. “Governor Romney does not get to take the credit for achieving that No. 1 ranking,” said Mike Gilbert, field director for the nonprofit Massachusetts Association of School Committees, “but it did happen while he was in office.” Once again, Romney falsely claims credit for something he did not advocate, did not advance, and would not have supported if it had not been in place. This appropriation of the ideals and work of others in combination with the arrogance that so often shows through is a true danger sign in the candidacy of Mr. Romney. He has, during his campaign, given Americans a newer and deeper understanding of the term unprincipled.
Polling after the debate indicates that Mr. Romney’s artful performance fooled a good many registered and likely voters. This is unfortunate because the debate performance was all style and no substance. Mr. Romney still has the same flawed policy prescriptions after the debate that he had before it. Mr. Romney still has the same callous indifference to half the country that he expressed in the spring of 2012. Mr. Romney still believes that his word should go unchallenged and if he can shut people down, he can win arguments and make sales. Mr. Romney is still driven by ambition, not conviction, and he will say anything no matter how absurd or contradictory if he believes it is a winning message for the group he is seeking to persuade at the moment. Mr. Romney still has all the authenticity of a three dollar bill. We the people must do more than succumb to an artful performance. We must come to our senses and due our duty to our country, our children, and the ideals we cherish. We must allow our heads, evidence, logic, and truth to guide us when we cast our votes for the presidency and other offices in 2012.