Full disclosure: I have a problem with Mitt Romney. Yes, I disagree with his policies—in all their mercurial guises—but I take specific (though not exclusive) exception to the way in which he has managed his campaign strategy. Romney moved so far to the right in an effort to win the nomination only to realize (in a panic, no less) he could never win the election by standing on an unabashed version of the GOP platform. The solution? Blithely sprint toward the center (Clinton’s “moderate Mitt”), away from both his catalogue of previously-held positions and the pointed demagoguery that bought him—er, won him—the nomination. But that’s profoundly the point. If we could, metaphorically speaking, peek into a Schrödinger-style “political box,” we’d see four discernible Mitt Romneys: the winner of the GOP debates; the governor of MA who debated Ted Kennedy; the heartless business shark of Bain Capital; and the fumbling, hot mess we’ve seen in the last few weeks. And like “Schrödinger’s cat,” it is impossible to locate Mitt’s political position. I can’t decide what angers me more: Mitt’s shameless tergiversations (using both senses of that word) or GOP sheep who recognize Mitt’s etch-a-sketch tactics and support him anyway—simply because he’s “not Obama.” (I guess there exists an impossible third category: the GOP votary who sees Romney as a solidly-consistent economic wonk, but that, like unicorns and Santa Claus, is too laughable to address.)
Here’s the quantum-physics translation: Romney will say anything to get elected, he has no core, and he is unreliable. We didn’t even need to have last night’s debate. Mitt would have been just as easily served by sending an affidavit to Bob Schieffer certifying that he supported Obama’s entire foreign-policy position. Here’s the thing: Mitt has made a purposeful political calculation; he assumes the vast majority of Americans pay zero attention to the details of the quotidian political sludge, so when he stands behind the dais, for example, he can “reinvent” himself without risking significant political fallout. And he was—is—correct. Those of us who follow this stuff understand the game he’s playing, but for “undecided” voters and card-carrying Republicans who only watch (part of) the debates, who don’t see the GOP consistently walking-back statements he makes in speeches, who don’t follow policy wonks, who don’t track the inconsistencies of his claims, well, in two-minute snippets, Mitt Romney looks like a somewhat reasonable alternative to the president. Oh, and he’s a billionaire, as the logic goes, so he MUST be a good choice for the economy, right?
Romney could have lost the election last night if—during the tough-on-China portion of the debate—Obama slapped him with the Sensata outsourcing (compliments of, yep, Bain Capital), a domestic-manufacturing debacle that’s happening, literally, right now in Freeport, IL. An entire factory is being stripped and shipped to China—the workers forced to train their Chinese replacements, jobs lost and pensions decimated, an entire working-class town now endangered because unemployed factory workers can no longer support a local system dependent upon that income. (By the way, Sensata workers generated record-level profits last year—over 500 million dollars; so, no, this isn’t about eliminating inefficiency or halting a drain on resources or upgrading human capital.) But here’s the best part: “Ol’ moderate Mitt” owns eight million in Sensata stock, and he stands to make a lot of money on the deal. (“Tough on China, Mr. Romney? What, does Sensata involve a “blind trust,” too? I guess we can add those unemployed factory workers to your “47 percent.”)
It is tragic, though, most voters know nothing of our little Midwestern pocket of manufacturing dystopia—even though the “Ed Show” did a live, on-location exposé last Friday night —because, as Mitt (or one of his campaign strategists) has accurately calibrated, most Americans either aren’t paying attention or, worse, just don’t care which Romney is “in the box” as long as he wins in November.