The Plutocrat

If you want to read a well-reasoned, well-written, comprehensive case for voting against Mitt Romney for president, Jonathan Chait has penned a fine essay appearing today. I am particularly fond of this simple characterization of the rightward shift of the GOP that belies Romney’s tardy and empty efforts to pose as a moderate:

[T]he reality remains that a vote for Romney is a vote for his party — a party that, by almost universal acclimation, utterly failed when last entrusted with governing. Romney may be brainier, more competent, and more mentally nimble than George W. Bush. But his party has, unbelievably, grown far more extreme in the years since Bush departed. Unbelievable though it may sound to those outside the conservative movement, conservative introspection into the Bush years has yielded the conclusion that the party erred only in its excessive compassion — it permitted too much social spending and, perhaps, cut taxes too much on the poor. Barely any points of contact remain between party doctrine and the consensus views of economists and other experts. The party has almost no capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.

Economists have coalesced around aggressive monetary easing in order to pump liquidity into a shocked market; Republicans have instead embraced the gold standard and warned incessantly of imminent inflation, undaunted by their total wrongness. In the face of a consensus for short-term fiscal stimulus, they have turned back to ancient Austrian doctrines and urged immediate spending cuts. In the face of rising global temperatures and a hardening scientific consensus on the role of carbon emissions, their energy plan is to dig up and burn every last molecule of coal and oil as rapidly as possible. Confronted by skyrocketing income inequality, they insist on cutting the top tax rate and slashing — to levels of around half — programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and children’s health insurance. They refuse to allow any tax increase to soften the depth of such cuts and the catastrophic social impact they would unleash.

But Chait really adds value in an observation about Romney’s character that rings very true, even if you throw up your hands in trying to figure it out from his endlessly duplicitous record.

The vast industry devoted to exploring the unknowable question of Romney’s true beliefs has largely ignored a simple and obvious possibility: That Romney has undergone the same political and/or psychological transformation that so many members of his class have since 2009. If there is one hard fact that American journalism has established since 2009, it is that many of America’s rich have gone flat-out bonkers under President Obama. Gabriel Sherman first documented this phenomenon in his fantastic 2009 profile in this magazine, “The Wail of the 1%,” which described how the financial elite had come to see themselves as persecuted, largely faultless targets of Obama and their greedy countrymen. Alec MacGillis and Chrystia Freeland have painted a similar picture.

The ranks of the panicked, angry rich include Democrats as well as Republicans and elites from various fields, but the most vociferous strains have occurred among the financial industry and among Republicans. All this is to say, had he retired from public life after 2008, super-wealthy Republican financier Mitt Romney is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to have lost his mind, the perfect socioeconomic profile of a man raging at Obama and his mob. Indeed, it would be strange if, at the very time his entire life had come to focus on the goal of unseating Obama, and he was ensconced among Obama’s most affluent and most implacable enemies, Romney was somehow immune to the psychological maladies sweeping through his class.

Seen in this light, Romney’s belief in himself as a just and deserving leader is not merely a form of personal ambition free of ideological content. His faith in himself blends seamlessly into a faith in his fellow Ãœbermenschen — the Job Creators who make our country go, who surround him and whose views shaped his program. To think of Romney as torn between two poles, then, is a mistake. Both his fealty to his party and his belief in his own abilities point in the same direction: the entitlement of the superrich to govern the country.

Putting Chait’s two lines of argument together should provide some solid advice for anyone you know who has been buying the Romney assertion that he’ll somehow be able to bridge the gap between the two parties and “get things done,” mostly based on very old and not very accurate impressions of what Romney was largely forced to do as governor of Massachusetts. The current thinking among Republicans is that “compromise with Democrats” on the basis of anything other that total surrender is The Great RINO Heresy, to be rooted out with fire and sword. So the “bipartisan Mitt” fantasy really involves the belief that Romney is going to betray his own party, his own supporters, his own donors, and ultimately his own class and everyone close to him. How likely is that?

Chait has said some pretty awful things about Mitt Romney, and so have I. But I don’t think either of us considers him monstrous enough to do what a lot of people who plan to vote for him hope and even confidently believe he is going to do: become a total sellout. And why would he, anyway? He is the perfect representative of the people who have come to believe what American needs is a good, strong, curative dose of plutocracy. Anyone expecting anything else from a Romney administration is really just not paying attention.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.