Columns » Ernest Dumas

The case (or not) for Willard M. Romney

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You know by now the case for re-electing President Barack H. Obama, but the case for Willard Mitt Romney has not been succinctly made, even by, or especially by, the Romney campaign, so someone must take up the challenge.

First, let's recapitulate the case for Obama: He inherited an economy that had been receding for 14 months and was hurtling toward a full-blown depression at the rate of 750,000 jobs a month and a 9 percent annual shriveling of the country's domestic output. The stimulus act — $787 billion of infrastructure and technology investments and tax cuts for workers and retirees — was passed a month into Obama's term, and it along with the bailout of the domestic auto industry halted the recession in four months (June 2009) and started a painful recovery. It was the first financial panic in 150 years that did not produce a depression. He had more domestic successes in his first three years than any president in the past century besides Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, to wit: a universal health insurance system that had eluded five Democratic and Republican presidents since World War II; a banking reform act that halted predatory lending, raised banks' capital requirements and sought to prevent the speculative abuses that induced the financial crisis; new fuel standards for vehicles that will rise steadily to 54.5 miles a gallon over the next 12 years, thus cutting fuel costs by half or more; reform of the student-aid program to cut government costs by $52 billion and sharply lower college costs for students; a tripling of AmeriCorps, the public-service jobs program started by Bill Clinton; a new wave of school reform; a civil rights law in his first week in office that sought to end wage discrimination against women, the disabled and minorities; all that and the smallest percentage rise in government spending for any presidential term in half a century.

Abroad, he killed Osama bin Laden and decapitated the al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pulled U. S. troops from Iraq as he promised, began the promised withdrawal from Afghanistan, cleaned up America's image by ending torture and domestic spying, and facilitated the overthrow of Middle East tyrants without the death of American soldiers by deft collusion with European and Arab allies (but to what end we yet don't know).

But Obama hasn't said what he would do if he is re-elected, and many, perhaps most, Americans need more than that record to vote the black man with a weird name back into office.

Romney's case begins with a gold-plated resume. The son of a rich industrialist whose presidential ambitions were thwarted in 1968 by Tricky Dick Nixon, Romney like Obama got a Harvard graduate degree, but he went into business. In 1984, with several other rich men who put in $12 million, Romney scavenged $37 million from investors — $9 million of it from offshore companies registered in Panama — and started a private-equity company called Bain Capital, which invested in, bought and sold businesses. Bain earned him a still-growing fortune now estimated at $250 million. He converted from independent to Republican and tried to outliberal and outspend Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994. He forced Kennedy to take out a second mortgage on his home to finance his campaign, but Kennedy won with 58 percent of the vote.

Romney took over the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City and boasted later that he was able to cadge "more than $400 million" in federal tax money from Congress to keep the extravaganza afloat, a remedy he would deplore for the auto industry seven years later. The Senate sorehead, Sen. John McCain, would complain that Romney's taxpayer bailout of the Olympics actually was $1.3 billion, which he called it "a ripoff of the taxpayers" and "a national scandal." But the scandal was not so bad that McCain couldn't endorse Romney for president this summer.

In 2002, though he had been living and paying taxes in Utah for two years, Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts, which had been run by Republican governors for 12 years. Hopelessly unpopular and with her state in a financial mess, Gov. Jane Swift gave Romney the GOP nomination without a fight. He declared himself "nonpartisan," "moderate" and "progressive" — a man who would always fight to "preserve and protect a woman's right to choose to have an abortion." He battled a Democratic legislature furiously for four years, winning little of his program and seeing nearly all of his 844 line-item vetoes overturned. But he and the legislature closed the budget deficit before he left office with higher business taxes, consumer fees and spending cuts for colleges and cities. He had one mammoth victory: at Kennedy's urging, the legislature in 2006 whooped through Romney's bill to insure nearly everybody by mandating that people buy insurance and helping poorer people with premium subsidies and expanded Medicaid. It became the template for Obamcare. He has been running for president ever since.

He's made simple promises. He will repeal Obama's tough rules on financial houses and Obamacare, returning 55 million to the ranks of the uninsured, and he will relieve coal, oil and chemical companies and the food industry of burdensome regulations that are supposed to protect public health and the environment but only restrain profits. He will get the economy going by raising military spending $2 trillion, cutting tax rates 20 percent across the board and balancing everyone's tax cuts by eliminating most (but unspecified) deductions and credits.

It's a tough choice, sure, but you have to make the call.

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