Saturday, November 12, 2011

What U.S. may get from Romney

The eight-ring circus known as the Republican presidential primary contest can be an amusing spectacle, especially for Democrats who can't get enough of Rick Perry's chronic gaffiness and Herman Cain's futile efforts to cloak himself in the mantle of virtue.

Seriously, though, there's a 50-50 chance that on Nov. 6, 2012, Mitt Romney will be elected president since the GOP's far-right disdain for the country-club Mormon candidate is exceeded only by its rage at President Obama.

Romney, anointed as "The Serious One" by conservative intellectuals like columnist David Brooks, still covets the respect, if not affection, of the GOP base. A week ago today, he attempted to curry their favor by tacking even farther to the right in a speech that even slice-and-dice politicians like U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the influential chairman of the House Budget Committee, would embrace.

Acknowledging the caveat that the former Massachusetts governor's policies are perched on quicksand, let's assume that he has now outlined his rock-solid goals.

Here's what a President Romney would propose:
-- Turn Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that assists the poor and disabled, into a solely state-run program that would subsist on reduced payments from Washington ("block grants"). Given the precarious finances of many states and the ideological insistence by some governors on letting the less-fortunate fend for themselves, the program would be gutted.

-- Slowly increase the eligibility age of future Medicare and Social Security recipients and add "means testing" so that the well-off would receive less, an idea well worth exploring.

-- End all government subsidies to Amtrak, meaning rail travel would be jeopardized.

-- Carve deeply into funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that helps support NPR, PBS and their affiliated stations, and the Legal Services Corporation that affords the indigent representation.

-- Cut $300 million in subsidies for family planning and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer, because the money indirectly supports "abortions or abortion-related services.''

In a speech to the Defending the American Dream summit of Americans for Prosperity -- the political advocacy group funded by the notorious brothers David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch -- Romney made a blatant appeal for support from the core of the Republican right:

"There are some who are going to argue that fiscal responsibility is heartless and immoral. No, what's heartless is to imperil our children, and what's immoral is to imperil the strength of a nation that was founded under God and preserved by his hand.''

No surprise, coming from a tough-minded business leader whose Bain Capital investment firm forced companies to slash their work forces, a policy Romney defended by arguing that "sometimes the medicine is a little bitter but it is necessary to save the life of the patient. My job was to try and make the enterprise successful, and in my view the best security a family can have is that the business they work for is strong."

Romney is clever. He's issuing detailed proposals on the economy, standing aside from the brawl that's engulfing the other candidates.

His Medicare proposal is rather bizarre, however, since it would offer future seniors a choice between Medicare as it now exists and private insurance coverage. Why would anyone choose to pay $10,000 a year or more for coverage from profit-hungry insurers instead of government care that costs a fraction of that exorbitant amount?

Columnist Brooks called Romney's proposals "politically astute and substantively bold," described the candidate's campaign as "impressive" and characterized the Republican presidential race as a "Marx Brothers movie Mitt Romney is Zeppo. He doesn't spin out one-liners. He's not the rambunctious one. He's just the earnest, good-looking guy who wants to be appreciated."

Brooks, the most thoughtful conservative pundit, argues that "Romney is running in an atmosphere in which it is extremely difficult to remain serious and substantive. Yet he is doing it. Democrats should not underestimate him."

That's for sure. Disillusioned Obama supporters should take a close look at Romney's proposals. Mr. Obama's best hope for a second term rests on a clear understanding by Democrats and independents of Romney's real intentions -- rewarding his very wealthy backers and imperiling even further the vast majority of the populace.

A year in advance, for what they're worth, the polls show Romney and Obama running nearly even, with a slight advantage to the incumbent. Hope endures.

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