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An Infantilizing Speech

Romney fails by refusing to say anything his audience doesn’t want to hear.
hail mitt

Maybe I am getting older and crankier, but that struck me as an exceptionally infantilizing speech that Mitt Romney just gave, politically speaking.

There were good bits in it, particularly in the soft-focus autobiographical stuff. He actually sounded like he choked up talking about missing the days when they’d wake up to find a pile of kids in their bedroom. He got a genuine laugh from a genuine joke. I’ve never cared much whether Romney seems “authentic” or “genuine” because those qualities in a politician are faked – what you’re seeing is the ability to seem genuine, seem authentic. If Romney lacks those qualities, they have practical consequences – people will be less-likely to believe him when he speaks in public – but they aren’t indications of character. But nonetheless, it’s nice to see that he can play this game a little, since he’d be expected to play it if he became President.

But the rest of the speech was pretty dreadful, and particularly this section:

Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team. Every new college graduate thought they’d have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future. This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits. This was the hope and change America voted for.

I don’t have the transcript yet (the above is from the pre-released excerpts), but the next line is something like, “That’s what Americans deserve.”

Think about that: immediately after the biggest economic crisis since the great depression, Americans deserved to have “the best years ever.”

I guess that’s what makes America special, what makes us an exceptional nation. This is the only place where nothing bad is ever allowed to happen, where you are entitled to the “best year ever” because you want it.

That was one half of the infantilizing message. The other half: the “trust me” presentation of his “plan” to revitalize the American economy.

Romney’s “plan” to create 12 million new jobs had five parts:

  • Energy independence (by 2020)
  • School choice
  • New trade agreements, and retaliation against nations that cheat on them
  • Cut the deficit
  • Cut regulations and taxes on small businesses, and repeal the ACA

Most of these things have absolutely nothing to do with job creation. Energy independence, if taken literally, would mean higher energy prices (if it was economically efficient for us to be independent, we would be). But what Romney really means is simply to roll back regulation against drilling and mining. More energy development will indeed create some jobs – it’s doing so in Western Pennsylvania, in North Dakota, for example. But it won’t make a big dent in a 12 million job goal.

School choice, whether you like it or hate it, has nothing to do with the near-term jobs picture.

New trade agreements? With what countries? Tariffs are at historic lows. “Trade agreements” these days are mostly about pushing other countries to respect our intellectual property regime. Retaliation is presumably about punishing China for being a currency manipulator. I’m still waiting to hear how exactly that particular chess game is supposed to play out after the first move.

Cutting the deficit is a meaningless goal if you don’t say how you’re going to cut it. Romney called out Obama for threatening the economy through his Medicare cuts and his (nonexistent) defense cuts. We don’t know what spending Romney plans to actually cut; he plans to increase spending on Medicare and defense. We know he has promised not to raise taxes, but to cut them. How the deficit is going to go down is a mystery. How, if it did, that would feed back into the job market is also a mystery.

And then we have cutting regulations and taxes on small businesses, and repealing the ACA (repeal is somehow supposed to lower healthcare costs). I’ll buy that actions to make our regulatory regime more efficient would have a positive economic impact. But a huge one? Big enough to pull us out of the biggest economic slump since the depression?

And that’s the “plan” to generate 12 million new jobs. The mismatch between the scale of the challenge and the proposed solution is almost laughable.

Mitt Romney is a very smart guy, and a successful businessman. He knows the mismatch is laughable. So why doesn’t he close the rhetorical gap? Don’t just tell us that President Obama doesn’t know how to end the economic crisis – explain to us how you think we wound up in this mess (in 2008, before Obama took office) and what President Obama should have done and could still do to get us out of it.

But, quite plainly, Mitt Romney has no intention of saying anything that his audience doesn’t want to hear, and what he thinks his audience wants to hear is that America is great, and the only reason everything isn’t hunky dory is that we are led by a man who doesn’t understand that America is great. So believe in Mitt Romney, who believes in America, and trust that he will do the right things to steer America toward brighter shores.

That’s the whole speech, and it’s the whole campaign. It’s really that infantilizing.

Personally, I like Mitt Romney. He was a decent governor. By all reports, he’s been a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He reminds me of some of the people I worked with on Wall Street whom I liked best – the people who were stand-up guys who you’d feel confident doing business with, not the raging egotists that you too often find in that business. But even if he were running on policies I support, which he isn’t (and which is the main reason I’m opposed to him), I’d call this speech a lousy one. He’s condescending, flattering and generally treating the American people like children. And I don’t think the American people should take kindly to that.



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