YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO Mitt Romney. For such a highly programmed automaton, the presumptive Republican nominee for president can appear amazingly lifelike. See, Romney has the gift for mimicry. Just like the human candidates he impersonates, he’s quite adept at bullshitting. With his varnished hair, trim figure and conservative-casual wardrobe (light-colored, long-sleeve button down; dark trousers; highly polished leather shoes) he looks every bit the part of a conservative political savior. He sounds like one, too, with his toothy, almost ministerial delivery of boilerplate phrases like “put America first” or “let’s get America working again.” Like any high-dollar fake, it’s easy to mistake Romney for the real thing: an honest candidate running to secure a better American tomorrow. At least, it was for the hundreds of economically dispossessed, working-class believers who turned out for his Aug. 3 rally at a North Las Vegas trucking equipment plant.
The factory floor was crammed with scores of howling, American flag-wearing, campaign sticker-sporting faithful who never once stopped clapping and hollering long enough to wonder: Will this multimillionaire who owns at least six mansions (including one with a car elevator) and who’s taken more than $37 million from Wall Street actually work for their economic interests?
But that wasn’t the point. Romney came to one of the most economically depressed areas of the Vegas Valley to convince these poor folks that, yes, despite his palatial estates, servants and Olympic show horse, he was one of them. Using the latest national employment figures that show the jobless rate edged up to 8.3 percent in July, with just 163,000 jobs added in that same time frame, Romney attacked President Barack Obama on the economy.
“We thought things would be better by now, but they’re sure not,” Romney began as the rowdy crowd hung on his every syllable. “… These numbers are not just statistics, these are real people, really suffering, having hard times.”
Never mind that those 163,000 new jobs in July represent a significantly faster rate of growth than in the previous three months. And forget that July represents the 29th straight month of job creation in the private sector, with an overall payroll growth of 4.5 million jobs since February 2010. Romney said he understood their economic pain, and he spun the latest economic statistics to sidestep, at least in front of voters, nagging questions about his tax returns, his tens of millions of dollars stashed in overseas tax havens and widespread reports that his economic plan will raise taxes on middle- and working-class people while making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest permanent.
The hundreds of the right-wing faithful clearly were buying what Wall Street’s favorite Mormon was selling: in other words, a finely honed collection of distorted economic realities and highly processed sound bites. He said he could help.
“That’s the longest period of time — 42 months — the longest period of time we’ve had unemployment above 8 percent in American history, since this has been recorded,” Romney continued. “This is an extraordinary record of failure …” Of course, Romney failed to mention a few details, such as that the crushing recession was caused by the same economic policies he’d institute as president: less government regulation; drawn-out, bankrupting, preemptive wars; and corporate welfare that forces working people to pay more while corporate profits soar.
He then pivoted to slam every right-winger’s favorite bogeyman, despots, while he pandered for cheap applause. “I just came back from back from overseas; I got the chance to meet a hero. I met [former Polish president and trade unionist] Lech Walesa,” recalled Romney. “A man who said no to despots, a man who said no to oppression. I’m always impressed by the power of one person to say no to people who would be oppressive, and to make a difference and, in some respects, change their lives, their families’ lives, the lives of their community, perhaps even the life of the nation … these moments where individuals stand and make a statement of freedom and say no to oppression … these are times for all Americans, for all of us to stand in our own way …”
Clearly, the implication was that Obama, with his pesky belief in the efficacy of government oversight of, say, Wall Street attempts to gamble with Americans’ money or, maybe, his insistence that the Environmental Protection Agency should check the climate-destroying practices of Big Oil, is a force of oppression. The second unstated implication, of course, was that Romney wanted to be their Lech Walesa.
Soon after, he finished his canned speech and waded out to shake hands and embrace the adoring throngs. Mission apparently accomplished.
Even during a lightning-fast press conference after the rally, Romney mostly got away with all this. Only one reporter asked him about the most controversial issue that threatens to hound him until Election Day: his refusal to release more of his personal tax returns.
With U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claiming insiders at Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney co-founded in the ’80s, told him Romney didn’t pay federal income taxes for 10 years, Democrats have said voters deserve to see how much federal income tax this inveterate venture capitalist has actually paid. Of course, those documents would also reveal how much Romney earned, especially during the depths of this still-persistent recession.
To no one’s surprise, Romney did what he always does when confronted with the possibility of harsh economic realities and gave a predictable non-answer. “I have paid taxes every year; a lot of taxes. Harry is simply wrong.” And that was it, apart from a quick mention that he might release one additional year of tax records.
On to the next question.