Mitt Romney has focused his run for the presidency on the superior skills he developed as a successful businessman, asserting that he alone has the knowledge, the experience, and the personal grit needed to repair the U.S. economy. Let us accept for a moment that Romney’s preferred narrative is true, i.e., that he actually was a respectable and honorable businessman, not just a predatory capitalist who bought up failing companies so he could enrich himself by stripping them of their assets and putting their employees out of work. If Mitt is the real thing, one should expect a president who will be a careful and cautious manager, making rational decisions based on available information, because whether businesses succeed or fail frequently depends on making the right judgments at the right time. Government admittedly provides services that do not exactly fit into a normal business model, but there nevertheless exists a broad consensus that a rational process should prevail that confers benefits on most of the citizens most of the time. As the dissatisfaction of most Americans with the status quo derives from the belief that the federal government is reckless and unresponsive and does not actually address the needs of the people, Romney’s claim that he can right what is wrong in the economy provides a compelling reason to vote for him.
In domestic policy, a businesslike approach would mean that you balance income and expenses so that you pay your bills because no business can avoid bankruptcy if it constantly runs a deficit. And in terms of foreign and defense policy it means that you pursue objectives that are in the national interest and that are both achievable and affordable because no country can long survive if it spends money that it does not have attempting to do things that bring no actual benefits.
So how does a businessman who becomes president actually fix what is broken? Well, first there is the federal budget, which drives both domestic spending and foreign adventures. Given the size of the deficit, there is no alternative to reducing spending combined with increasing revenue. One might well argue about precisely where to reduce spending, but it would seem to me that the approximate trillion dollars that are budgeted annually on what is referred to as defense is at least partially discretionary spending because it can be reduced substantially and quickly by cutting back on Washington’s overseas commitments. It could be done without damaging social programs that actually provide benefits to the American people. And to raise additional revenue to narrow the budget gap, rescinding the Bush tax cuts that have frequently been described as being for the wealthy would also be a good place to start.
So what are Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan proposing? Making the Bush cuts permanent and adding on more breaks for the wealthy by reducing the tax brackets, which will shift the tax burden onto America’s vanishing middle class. Someone making a million dollars will pay $285,000 less in taxes under the Romney plan. And there will also be increased defense spending. Ryan has accepted the necessity of changes in entitlement programs that tens of millions depend on, including Social Security and Medicare, rather than touching the Pentagon budget because the “first job of government is to secure the safety and liberty of its citizens.” That means the trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits will continue indefinitely, at least until the United States completely runs out of money, which might be sooner than anyone thinks possible. If the U.S. dollar were not a world reserve currency, enabling the Treasury to print money, it would have likely happened already.
And then there is foreign policy. A businessman would first have to look at the ongoing war in Afghanistan. It costs between $8 billion and $10 billion a month, continues to kill American soldiers and Afghans at an alarming rate, and there is no end in sight despite some vague assurances that all combat troops will be gone by the end of 2014 conditions “on the ground” permitting. Staying in Afghanistan serves no conceivable national interest except the vaguely defined objective of “keeping terrorists out.” Even if the U.S. leaves the country, it is still committed to providing massive military and economic assistance for the foreseeable future, aid that would be going to a government that is completely corrupt and that has been frequently linked to international drug trafficking. Afghanistan is in reality a narco-state, while its government is confronting an insurgency that is growing stronger as the regime grows less and less effective or relevant. Which means that eventually all the lives lost and money wasted will produce no result that would be welcomed by Washington. The Taliban will be back.
So what does Mitt Romney the business guru take from all of that? He maintains that the war must be continued for as long as the generals endorse continued fighting, until something called “victory” is achieved. And as there is no such thing as a U.S. general who would concede that a war is unwinnable, the fighting and bleeding will go on. So much for rational analysis from a business viewpoint.
And then there is Israel. Israel is no strategic asset for the United States and is instead threatening to involve Washington in a preemptive war with Iran that is completely unnecessary in terms of U.S. national security. Tel Aviv also forces the United States to take untenable positions in international forums like the United Nations to shield it from criticism, a net loss for American global interests. The relationship costs the U.S. taxpayer in excess of $3 billion per year in aid exclusive of tax breaks and co-production programs that make the actual figure much higher. Mitt’s businesslike response? He gave Israel a green light to attack Iran and said that Washington and Tel Aviv should “use any and all measures” against the Iranians. He added that the U.S. has a “moral imperative” to defend Israel.
And then there are the little wars of choice erupting in Africa and Asia. Is the United States actually threatened by what is going on in Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, and Syria? No, so the question must be, “Why are we there?” A businessman would recognize that there is no net gain in wasting resources on situations that cannot be resolved and that will not produce any benefit for the shareholders, in this case, U.S. citizens. Mitt, however, supports the global war on terror on every level and wants to increase the Pentagon budget to more aggressively fight America’s enemies, which apparently now include Russia.
So much for business acumen as a desirable quality for America’s next president, as it apparently has nothing to do with how one would govern. Clearly, Mitt Romney employs no deductive process to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t and is instead driven by a bundle of presuppositions about what he thinks he is supposed to do. In that respect he differs little from George W. Bush or Barack Obama except that he might actually be more boneheaded. And some of his choices might prove to be more dangerous than what we have already experienced. If Romney truly follows the business model that he established with Bain Capital, his intention might be to strip the United States of its remaining assets while producing absolutely nothing that has any value before shutting the enterprise down and putting all of us out to pasture. Will that finally be enough to make the American people really, really angry? I hope so.