Tonight was the effort to put over the "Mitt Romney" story (mythomania refers to pathological lying). Every convention does this, and every candidate is able to find people who claim the candidate selflessly saved them, generously helped them, and generally amazed them. Even Richard Nixon, a paranoid spiteful person of limited personality and a mortal fear of the public, was able to create a night of tears and touching stories.
So unlikeable is Romney, so low were the expectations, that it was actually a profound surprise to everyone that he was able to find a few stories himself. When you reflect on what was said however, and think about how much money Romney has to buy friends, the real surprise is that so few people vouched for his character in such an unimpressive way, that so few business success stories could be laid to his door, that his Olympics myth was actually damaged by the over the top presentation of Kim Rhode, Mike Eruzione, and Derek Parra; and that his Massachusetts record, indeed his whole presentation, was wounded by repeated pandering to women without any recognition that his proposed policies hurt them. In fact, his presentation was a reaction to his popularity problems, and it defies his claim that he offers any kind of leadership.
Craig Romney carried the flag for the younger Romney generation, which was surprising because he was not an effective speaker. He was followed by Jeb Bush, who was supposed to talk about education reform and school choice, but had a real dilemma. Republicans say they want school choice and maximum freedom for parents, but they don't. You see, parents might like their kids to go to Exeter and Groton, which don't want their kids. Freely choosing parents would direct their children into law and medicine, protected professions where people earn outsized rewards, but Republicans don't want more people going into either of those professions. Bush and the Republicans say they want those kids studying science and engineering. Bush said China and India graduate eight times as many engineers as the United States. He didn't mention that they have more than eight times the population we do. Nor did he mention that while the United States has failed to provide jobs for all its college graduates, China and India have been unable to provide jobs for all their college graduates too. But this is all smoke and mirrors. What they really want are 1) tax money taken from public schools and given to private religious schools; and 2) opportunities for profits from online schools. All of these are of low quality and not likely to fix America's science and engineering. Many of them are not run by college graduates. Romney and Bain Capital are big investors in such schemes. It's really just another assault on public tax dollars by private corporations, which can then give to political campaigns. Republican campaigns. They are attempting to create a corrupt crony machine using private corporations where the big city mayors once used unions. The Republican hate of unions is real, but in truth they would be for unions if they could get as much money from them as they could from corporations. Romney will say he stamped out "cronyism and corruption" in Massachusetts, in the Olympics, and in business. The facts say he embraces and encourages it.
Consider this. It has now been twenty years since the Bushes began large-scale experiments in school choice. According to Republican politicians, they have made huge fabulous wonderful gains all that time. Yet when you look at those results comparing the USA to foreign countries, the USA's performance continues to decline, and somehow states like Florida and Texas still end up near the bottom of scholastic achievement. They've spent twenty years wasting money on a failed social engineering experiment, and despite their false claims, things have not gotten better....except for the profits made by companies in the education field.
Next came the Mormon segment. No other candidate has ever admitted that his church commitments were the leading time commitment of his life. The presidential sphere is not the religious sphere. Bishop Grant Bennett told us that Romney spent "10, 15, even 20 hours" a week on his religious duties for years and years and years. Bennett did not have a stopwatch on Mitt, and his assertions about Mitt's work ethic were undercut when he said Mitt "didn't discuss questions of theology" and "seldom delivered the sermon himself." Since these were Mitt's main responsibilities as bishop where there is no mechanism for formal training of preachers, it amounts to shirking responsibility. According to Bennett, what Mitt loved was private help to people in need, which we know from other sources extended to bullying a woman who needed an abortion and freezing out people who didn't share his political views. Given this supposed need to help people, though, it was surprising what they trotted out as examples.
Pat and Ted Oparowski had a son with Hodgkins' lymphoma. Mitt would visit him and bought him some fireworks. He also helped the 14 year old kid make a will so his toys would go to the correct friends. Mitt read the eulogy at his funeral. The Oparowskis were overcome by this noblesse oblige. They said "How many men do you know that would take time out from their busy schedules to help a 14 year-old order his affairs." That was a mistake, because the obvious answer is, I don't know any men who wouldn't. Even NBA stars with felony police records do things like this, as do atheists galore. I'm afraid this touching speech said more about the Oparowskis than about Romney. They were dazzled by hierarchy, that this rich important guy would stoop to comfort them. And they share the common Mormon arrogance: the belief that only Mormons do this kind of thing. In a way they are right, since only Mormons confine this kind of thing to their co-religionists. Most people will help perfect strangers if asked.
The second example was even more telling. Pam Finlayson was stunned when Romney came to visit her. She was embarrassed that she had drying clothes all over her home, and Romney helped her take in her own laundry, which amazed her. The Romneys used her as a babysitter, but it wasn't clear whether or not she was paid for it. She had a baby who was 3.5 months premature and struggled for life. The Romneys brought her a Thanksgiving dinner during that time, and both kids and Ann claimed it was all Mitt's idea, not theirs. This last insistence was a curious note which suggested just the opposite. In a patriarchy where his son Tagg admits that Romney is served first at dinner, the likelihood is that he will be credited with all decisions by his loyal family no matter what the facts are. When that child of Kate Finlayson eventually died at age 26, both Mitt and Ann called to offer condolences, which again amazed Pam. She was shaking with sobs by the end of all this, as were many of the Republican audience. Really? Is it that hard to believe someone would call a former domestic employee to comfort her?
So that was it. Some fireworks, a fake will, a eulogy, helping take in the laundry, a Thanksgiving dinner for the babysitter, and a phone call when her child died. For one of the richest men in America, those were the biggest stories they could come up with about his compassion. And those were a result of his assigned church position. The same church that advanced his career and pulled the strings to put him in charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics to launch his political career. I could do better from my own life. I suspect most people could.
Next came a strident defense of Bain Capital. Tom Sternberg told us that Bain Capital stood by one education company with five years of losses. We know Mitt was involved with around 100 deals, but not if this was one of them. The fact they only could point to this one shows it was the exception, and it wasn't clear from the description just how much influence Romney had on this decision. We were also told that although Bain Capital sold out of Staples early, Mitt remained on the board of directors of 15 years. Most businessmen would laugh, since directors rarely contribute to a company in any real way. But Romney claims to, sometimes to his cost. For example, he was on the board of Damon when it engaged in a massive Medicare fraud scheme. He could have said he just didn't know about it, but instead he said he blew the whistle to the feds. The feds denied it. And if the feds were lying about that and Romney was a whistleblower, then Romney defrauded the company he sold Damon to because he didn't tell them and he made lots of money off the deal, almost half a million for himself. So either either Romney knew about the fraud and was guilty of scamming the buyers of Damon, or he didn't know and was guilty about lying about it as well as negligence in his director's role.
Sternberg did not discuss the failure rate of Romney's businesses. Deutsche Bank found that Romney's companies lost money or went bankrupt almost half the time, yet the failure of exactly ONE investment of President Obama under his massive stimulus bill was enough to make Romney accuse the president of "cronyism and corruption." Who would you like as a manager? A man who made $500 billion in investments in the stimulus and $50 billion in investments with the auto industry, with only one screw up of half a billion, or a man who sent half of the companies he was "helping" down the tubes? Romney wanted to let GM and Chrysler fail. It appears Obama may be the better businessman.
Kerry Healey arrived to tell us of the wonders of Mitt Romney's governance of Massachusetts. She said "we cut taxes 19 times" and "as a result" they only had 4.7% unemployment when Romney's term ended. Well , if as Romney claims, the president creates jobs, then those were Bush's jobs, not Romney's.
In truth he didn't cut taxes but raised them, raising 750 fees to raise revenue. He did cut aid to cities, which caused local government to raise taxes, so that during his term in office, even though Massachusetts had as big a deficit after he left as when started, the average tax burden per family was much higher. She also told a misleading anecdote about how the first day in office, Romney insisted his staff serve breakfast to homeless vets. Touching, but Romney cut aid to the poor throughout his administration, homelessness increased, and therefore there were more charitable opportunities.
It is true the Romney took no salary. It is also true that various buddies of his got lucrative contracts with Massachusetts. One of the big scandals of his administration was a partial collapse of the Big Dig Tunnel, killing a commuter, which happened when he was vacationing in New Hampshire. She claimed he "didn't assign blame" but "fixed it" and "abolished cronyism and corruption." In fact, it was all about blame assigning, since the Turnpike Authority had failed in its oversight of private contractors. One reason? Massachusetts had such business friendly laws that when the contractor was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter, the punishment was the maximum fine: $1,000. That is to say, when you kill someone in Massachusetts, you go to jail. Unless you're a corporation, in which case you only pay a $1,000 fine. Yet Romney brags about such a business friendly environment.
Then Jane Edmonds, a black democrat who served in Romney's cabinet in Massachusetts got up to say how wonderful he was to women. She gave the most servile, unconvincing speech at the convention and frankly repulsed the audience. She said her first impression of Romney was "his humility, his grace, his kind manner." She said he was "honest, authentic, inclusive." that he was "not for himself, but for the people." Her greatest love of him? He hired 42% women, when the previous Democratic administration only had 30%. Fully half his cabinet were women, the most in the whole country. In other words, he made a quota of nonentities like Edmonds. This was all met with horror by the Republicans, who don't like this quota sort of thing. And yet, it has long been practiced by business to maintain their sexism in a litigious world, that they hire weak people from the women and minorities. To be fair, nobody can talk honestly of Romney's Massachusetts years without mentioning there was a 85% Democratic supermajority in the legislature and that with 13% Republican registration, there were essentially no Republicans with management experience.
If anyone thought Jane Edmonds had brought hagiography to an insincere, brown nosing low, they would soon seen it overtopped by the scene of Olympic athletes prostituting themselves for Romney. Kim Rhode started it off with a wild exaggeration, saying Mitt Romney saved the entire Olympic movement. As we know from this blog, the Salt Lake Games were actually in good shape when Romney took them over. Mike Eruzione then weighed in saying that the Games were in a "desperate scandal" due to "bribery and mismanagement" As we have seen before in this blog, the Salt Lake Olympics was on track for success when Romney was hired, and far from eschewing those tainted in the bribery scandal, he hired some and helped others, being repaid over the years with millions in campaign contributions. We also know the CFO Mitt fired was right and Mitt wrong about the prospect for federal funds, the ostensible reason for the CFO's dismissal. Eruzione said that thanks to Romney the "2002 Games would have the highest standards of ethics and integrity." Instead there was a judging scandal.
All this was to be expected, but when the fanatical, lisping Romney devotee Derek Parra got up to speak, we got something macabre. Parra claimed he once lived with the Romneys (they panned to the Romneys who looked as if he had slapped them; maybe he was sleeping with one of them). He said that he was going to skip the Opening Ceremonies in 2002 to prepare for his competition the next day but the Romneys demanded he help carry the World Trade Center 9/11 flag into the ceremonies and he couldn't refuse. That actually made them out as insensitive users. He started crying thinking about that moment, and said "That all happened under Mitt Romney" as if Romney were a God from heaven. He claimed Romney was responsible for America's record gold medal haul at that Games, which reminded us that Kim Rhode bragged about the record medal haul this year in London. Will they allow Obama credit for that? I kind of doubt it.
It was so excessive, so very Jerry Sandusky creepy, that the crowd went slack-jawed.
Next up was the old reprobate Clint Eastwood, who sounded like an old drunk in a nursing home, and looked it too with unbrushed hair and no makeup. Why this embarrassing spectacle? Last February, during the Super Bowl, Clint Eastwood did an ad praising the American car industry, saying it was "halftime in America." Republicans seeing the ad were convinced he meant he was advocating a second term for Obama and referring to Romney's embarrassing instruction to let Detroit fail. Eastwood denied any political intent, as did the car company. The point of having Eastwood excoriate Obama's failed promises was to do a turnabout "gotcha" on the Democrats. Except that the Democrats weren't behind the original ad, so the whole episode reeks of Romney paranoia, grudge holding, resentment, and mental illness. .
After this cascade of embarrassment, Senator Marco Rubio stepped to the fore. Like most speakers, he wallowed in his immigrant background. First he was bogged down in generalities and the swamp of American Exceptionalism (none of the Republicans seems to understand that most Americans don't have the faintest idea what they mean by that or why they push it so hard).
That part of his talk reached a grisly climax of nonsense when he said "If we do for our children what our parents did for us, America can be better than it ever was." He meant sacrifice, which is not something one says specifically out loud in politics except in the past tense, as something we all DID, not something we need to DO, but since most our parents raised us in a more liberal age, it necessarily conjured up a time when more progressive, government centered values prevailed to the confusion of his message. He then went on the obligatory patriotic riff saying, "Dreams that are impossible anywhere else they come true here," an odd thing to say when almost every other country in the world has higher social mobility in the last thirty years than this one. Let's put it this way: there are no billionaires in China who came from rich families, whereas most American billionaires came from rich families. Rubio said that America's a place where it doesn't matter who your parents are, which is another huge lie from a party whose keenest most deeply cherished agenda item is to eliminate all inheritance tax so that the richest among us can shower money on their offspring for generations.
Rubio was supposed to be celebrating and introducing Mitt Romney. But he tossed that off with a line or two about Romney's "success" and delivered his little political homily instead, with the danger of making Romney's own speech a repetition of its introduction.
Romney's speech I will cover in the next entry. Of all the nights, this one had the most impact on the Republicans because the positive things that were said about Romney, lame and mythomanic though they were, made them feel much better about him. It was not clear it had any effect on the public, since it had a ritualized aspect, derived from its Mormon source in hierarchy and deference. The peasants thrilled over the crumbs he gave them because they had been trained to expect nothing at all.. It might soothe some die-hard Republicans, but to the average person, it didn't sound like quite the amazing story it was made out to be.