If Mitt Wins


President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney squared off in Denver, Colorado on October 3.  The media, as usual, have been busily attempting to frame what happened there, as if the American people did not see it for themselves.  President Obama lost; no, he was crushed!  Many, including the President himself, are now publicly questioning Governor Romney's character and are calling him a liar.  Yet the undisputed fact remains that President Obama appeared unprepared for the engagement and sadly inept. 

Who won and who lost in this outing carry immense weight in the presidential race.  Already the polls indicate the President's loss of support and the challenger's edge.  Since I believe the election is of vital importance to the well-being of the country, I don't discount the significance of the debate, as superficial as it may have otherwise been.  Be assured that I will be observing and listening closely when the nominees meet to do battle on other scheduled occasions. 

Yet I beg you to look beyond this election and to ask yourselves some hard questions about the welfare of the nation.  There are, of course, clear indicators what will happen if Barack Obama is re-elected. They are manifested in what has occurred during his first term of office.  Government will continue to expand; the national debt will skyrocket; lawlessness will proliferate as he the imperial president aids and abets the violation of statutes regulating matters such as immigration and national defense; the United States' credit rating will remain on a downward spiral; and the world, especially that portion which is Arab, will grow increasingly unstable and dangerous. 

But suppose that Governor Romney is elected; what might we then expect?   He and Congressman Paul Ryan insist that they will put the brakes on spending and cut federal programs substantially.  This is music to the ears of countless conservatives including myself, but how realistic is it?  Notables such as Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all professed the same goal. Each tried to pare down government waste, but ran headlong into what may be termed "the Washington reality."  "And what is that?" you ask.  It is the dismal fact of relentless pressure groups, otherwise known as "lobbies," and their money. They exercise immense control over government.  Registered lobbyists, each representing a special interest, have increased exponentially since the mid-1950s.  They are typically paid huge sums of money to influence legislation and will stop at nothing to do so.  They are ruthless and play political hardball.  Listen to Dale Bumpers, former Senator from Arkansas, describe the pressure which they exert on members of Congress as well as the consequences of it:

[T]hese groups developed very harsh methods of dealing with those who crossed them.  Suddenly every vote began to have political consequences.  Congress began to finesse the tough issues and tended to straddle every fence it couldn't burrow under. . . . It isn't that these groups don't have a legitimate interest but they distort the process by wrangling over the smallest issues, leaving Congress paralyzed, the public disgusted, and the outcome a crapshoot.

Lobbies possess the money and, hence, the power to defeat candidates who oppose them.  Once a candidate is targeted for defeat, he often finds he is in a desperate struggle for his political life.  For a career politician, it is not a pleasant prospect to be caught in the National Rifle Association's or Israeli Lobby's cross hairs. Millions of dollars in negative advertising rains down upon the candidate.  So if a person wishes to survive in Congress, it is best not to be too heroic.  Taking an instrumental role in cutting spending across the board is a surefire way to make bitter enemies, and that is not the recipe for longevity in Congress.  It is much easier to get along by going along.

Congress, until the mid-1970s, was under the control of powerful political parties.  What went on in Congress was monitored and controlled by a group of oligarchs with allegiance to their respective parties.  They stood by the party, and the party stood by them.  They were not immune to the power of special interests, but they also did not have to cower before them as they do now. 

When the parties were strong, Congress got many things done.  As the institution of Congress became "democratized" and each elected representative began standing alone facing the electorate, the power of special interests filled the vacuum that resulted from party emasculation.  Elected representatives are now prone to observe very carefully the direction in which the political winds are blowing and where the big financial interests are lining up.  The "common good" often falls through the cracks as the afterthought it has become in politics.

So let me ask you:  how reasonable is it to believe that, if Governor Romney becomes president, every item on the budget will be considered for the chopping block?  If he is elected, in order to get anything done, he will have to work with Representatives and Senators, who in turn will be obliged to lend their ears to special interests to remain in office.  Jonathan Rauch, in his book Demosclerosis, characterizes the present state of the federal government as "a giant frozen mass of ossified programs trapped in a perpetual cash crunch."  Exactly!  If Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, and Gingrich could not break through this ossification, what makes Mitt Romney think that he can?  I for one am skeptical.

The system will have to change for any president to effect massive cuts in programs and curbs in spending.  "Democratizing" Congress has amounted only to giving pressure groups, who are not accountable to the American people, the de facto reins of power.  Newt Gingrich commented a number of times during his recent campaign for the presidency that Mitt Romney has no bold plan for turning the country around and that at best he will only "manage the decay" for a few years.  I wonder if this judgment is not the product of the Speaker's own insightful, albeit bewildering, experiences in Congress.   

Do not misunderstand my meaning. Barack Obama's presidency has been, in my opinion, one of the most abysmal failures in the history of American government.  If given four more years in office, he and his minions will continue to formulate and to implement policies that do not work.  But Mitt Romney, while perhaps the better of the two candidates, seems to be couching his strategy for change in conservative platitudes.  Sure, the facts he advanced in the debate about the miserable economy and the need for a change in direction are hardly arguable, but the question is whether Governor Romney can usher in the change the nation needs.  Neither tired Republican cliches about taxing and spending nor magical incantations about reaching across the aisle for bipartisan alliances will promote the common good. In addition to concrete goals and bipartisan support for them, bold systemic innovations will be necessary to accomplish what Romney and Ryan have proposed, and such innovations are sure to be vehemently criticized and condemned as anti-democratic and reactionary.

Governor Romney has been fighting to become president for a long time.  If and when his bid proves successful, then we shall see whether he desired the office to be somebody or to do something. At this point, I am frankly not sure.

October 7, 2012