Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

More on Bork

In a recent post, I made the case that Romney’s choice of Robert Bork as his legal/courts advisor should disqualify him from the Presidency.

I subsequently ran across a more in-depth discussion of Bork, borrowing liberally from his own writings.

This extended essay is well worth reading in its entirety, but let me whet your appetite with my “favorite” Bork quote: “No activity that society thinks immoral is victimless. Knowledge that an activity is taking place is a harm to those who find it profoundly immoral.”

The U.S. Constitution was based upon the Enlightenment belief in personal autonomy; the libertarian principle that humans have the right to pursue their own ends–the right to “do their own thing”–so long as they respect the equal right of others and do not cause harm to the person or property of a non-consenting other.

This is sometimes called “the harm principle,” and it limits the zone of freedom individuals enjoy. If something I am doing harms you, the government is justified in intervening. So, for example, free people can choose to smoke, even though it may be bad for them, but when substantial scientific evidence confirms the harm done to others by passive smoke, government can constitutionally prohibit smoking in public places. People of good will can and do debate whether a particular activity is harmful, of course, but in our system, if your personal behaviors don’t affect anyone else, the government is supposed to butt out.

In Bork’s world, however, simple awareness that someone is doing something of which you disapprove constitutes a harm.

In Bork’s world, if “society” believes that a behavior–contraceptive use, sex between unmarried adults,  homosexual sex, masturbation, smoking, whatever–is immoral, that disapproval constitutes a harm sufficient to justify outlawing that activity.

Freedom, in Bork’s cramped vision of that word, is freedom to do the “right” thing–as defined by Robert Bork and his ilk. It is hard to imagine a more unAmerican understanding of our legal system.

Bork actually makes Jay Sekelow–Pat Robertson’s lawyer, and the other Romney legal advisor–look moderate.

A Political Eddie Haskell

As I was driving to work yesterday,  NPR was broadcasting a snippet of a speech made the night before by Mitt Romney. That’s when it hit me. I’d been trying for weeks to pin down who it was that Romney reminds me of, and with the patent insincerity of that speech, it finally clicked.

Mitt Romney is the Eddie Haskell of politics.

Eddie Haskell, for those of you too young to remember, was the disgusting little sycophant on “Leave it to Beaver.” The character was so vivid, his very name became synonymous with dishonest sucking up.

In the speech fragment I heard, Romney was feigning outrage over the new regulations promulgated by HHS, requiring all employers who offer health insurance–including religious employers like hospitals and universities–to include coverage for contraception. As I previously blogged, there are legitimate concerns when government issues regulations that are intended to protect or benefit the general public when those rules run afoul of some folk’s religious beliefs. But there was no such nuance in Romney’s attack–not to mention any recognition of the fact that several states have imposed similar regulations for years. Nope, according to Mitt, Obama was purposely attacking religion, and he wouldn’t do that if he were President. No siree!

Let’s just deconstruct that attack.

Romney is a Mormon, and the federal government long ago outlawed polygamy. The effect of that prohibition was to deny Mormons the ability to live by what was at the time considered an essential tenet of their religion, yet Romney has never criticized that restriction–indeed, he has said he agrees with it. The HHS regulation, on the other hand, does not require anyone to use birth control in contravention of their religious beliefs; it merely requires them to make that option available to employees who come from different religious traditions and/or hold different beliefs. The regulation doesn’t apply to churches–just to large religiously-run organizations like hospitals and universities, where employees represent a wide diversity of backgrounds and faith traditions.

There are plenty of laws that have incidental effects on religious practices. For example,laws requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated pose problems for Christian Scientists. Quakers believe they should not be required to pay taxes that support wars (the courts have not been receptive to that argument). Laws requiring photo IDs for driver’s licenses are a genuine dilemma for fundamentalist Muslim women whose beliefs require them to wear full burkas. (Somehow, I doubt Mitt would get too worked up over that one, since the base he is so shamelessly pandering to tends to be virulently anti-Muslim.)

None of these “attacks on religion” have merited even a passing mention from Mitt Romney.

That’s the problem with channelling Eddie Haskell. The insincerity overwhelms the message.

 

Not-So-Private Enterprise

This morning’s New York Times has a story about Mitt Romney’s campaign-trail praise for a “private” enterprise that–just coincidentally–happens to be owned by one of his largest contributors. It’s a story that could undoubtedly be written about several of the other candidates in an era when money makes the political world go around, and it wouldn’t merit much more than a sigh and a shrug if it weren’t for two things: the enterprise in question and the increasingly dishonest characterization of what constitutes “private enterprise.”

The business that Romney praises as a “cost-effective” alternative to soaring tuition rates is a for-profit college in Florida named Full Sail University. As the Times points out,

“Mr. Romney did not mention the cost of tuition at Full Sail, which runs more than 80,000, for example, for a 21-month program in ‘video game art.'”

Nor did he mention the institution’s 14% graduation rate.

In fact, there has been a growing recognition that many, if not most, for-profit colleges are royal rip-offs, promising students credentials that prove worthless in the marketplace and vastly overcharging for poor-quality instruction. In response, President Obama has proposed new regulations that would make it much more difficult for students attending such institutions to receive federal aid.

And that leads to the problem of mis-characterization. The reason so many of these for-profit colleges are lobbying so frantically against the Obama proposals is that they are “private” enterprises in name only. They depend almost entirely upon the financial aid available to students courtesy of the American taxpayer.

I’m told that for-profit colleges got their biggest boost in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the availability of the GI Bill promised quick profits to educational entrepreneurs who could best market their programs. Today, most of them would disappear without the ability to tap public funds.

We have a long history in this country of politicians extolling the virtues of those who fund their campaigns, and we have an equally long history of people railing against “socialism” and “bailouts” and “welfare” while happily sucking at the public you-know-what. (Remember Ross Perot, that apostle of private-sector “can do” attitudes who made his fortune contracting with the government?)

As the Times article points out, the for-profit college industry has “been the target of withering criticism in the last few years in the wake of federal investigations into fraudulent marketing practices, poor academic records and huge loans assumed by students ill-prepared for the expensive programs.”

Bottom line: these enterprises are not examples of private entrepreneurship. And what they are offering bears little resemblance to an education.

As the Newt Turns

It has been very painful watching the Republican Presidential field, for many reasons. First, of course, is the sheer amazement that this group of goofballs could be taken seriously as candidates for any political office, let alone the highest office in the land. But beyond that, there’s been the nagging question whether they are really as uninformed as they seem, or whether they are pandering to a base devoid of civic and scientific literacy. The question is: are they intellectually or morally vacuous?

The answer is pretty clear when you talk about Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain. They’re delusional and none too bright. You can’t really blame them–their rise, such as it is, is entirely the fault of the people who actually support them.

But what can we say about the flavor of the day, Newt Gingrich?

Gingrich recently spoke to a Christian Right group in Iowa, and bemoaned what he characterized as an effort to make America a “secular” country. This is a man who taught history at the college level, a man who–however morally sleazy–is acknowledged to be highly intelligent. This is, in short, a man who clearly knows that he’s spouting utter nonsense.

The American constitution is a wholly secular document–not because the Founders were “anti-religion” (although many of them would certainly be considered anti-Christian by today’s religious zealots–Jefferson wrote a bible that excised all references to deity, and Adams felt that attributing divinity to Jesus was “an awful blasphemy” ), but because they believed that government and religion didn’t mix.

Whether one agrees or not with America’s decidedly secular foundation is not the point. The point is that any historian worth the name is aware of the facts of our founding, the attitudes of our Founders, and the decidedly non-religious nature of our legal system. Newt’s speech can only be understood as a breathtaking willingness to pander. Granted, no one who has watched him over the years could mistake him for a moral/ethical being, but even so, this degree of smarminess is breathtaking.

And I thought no one could out-pander Mitt…..