Free Markets, Free People
“Conservatives” attacking capitalism [update]
Whether you like Mitt Romney or not, Jay Nordlinger at NRO is right about one thing that has disturbed me: we’ve been treated to a spectacle, through these often destructive debates, of so-called “conservatives” attacking capitalism in an effort to gain votes. And yes, I meant to put the word in scare quotes because such attacks, by supposedly real conservatives (just ask them, each will tell you he’s the only “real” conservative in the race), should be unthinkable.
Nordlinger offers a litany of examples from two elections cycles, starting with:
Last time around, Mike Huckabee said Romney “looks like the guy who laid you off.”Conservatives reacted like this was the greatest mot since Voltaire or something. To me, Romney looked like someone who could create a business and hire the sadly unentrepreneurial like me.
Others said, “He looks like a car salesman,” or, worse, “a used-car salesman.” Ho ho ho! Commerce, gross, icky, yuck. Better Romney looked like an anthropology professor.
Or a law professor and community organizer, which is what we got. Frankly, I’ll take a used car salesman any day over what we have now.
But Nordlinger’s point is true. In their quest to tear down the bona fides of the candidate most threatening to their run for the roses, “conservatives” have been reduced to taking pot shots at capitalism even while they claim to be its champion.
Over and over, Romney defends and explains capitalism. And he’s supposed to be the RINO and squish in the race? That’s what I read in the conservative blogosphere, every day. What do you have to do to be a “real conservative”? Speak bad English and belch?
In the Saturday debate, Santorum knocked Romney for being just a “manager,” just a “CEO,” not fit to be president and commander-in-chief. This was odd for a couple of reasons: First, Romney did have a term as governor of Massachusetts (meaning he has executive political experience, unlike Santorum). And second: Since when do conservative Republicans denigrate private-sector experience?
Indeed, the Santorum remark hit me as the remark of someone who has no idea what a “manager” or “CEO” does. But as Nordlinger points out, Romney’s also been an executive position, something Santorum hasn’t. Naturally he left that out.
The disturbing aspect of the Santorum remark is the apparent poor regard in which he holds business managers and CEOs in a capitalist system and believes you should too. This is just the “conservative” version of the Democrats class warfare shtick.
Now Romney has said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, ‘You know, I’m going to get someone else to provide that service to me.’” Simple, elementary competition. Capitalism 101. And conservatives go, “Eek, a mouse!”
I could go on: the $10,000 bet, the pink slips, conservatives wetting their pants, over and over. They have no appetite to defend capitalism, to persuade people, to encourage them not to fall for the old socialist and populist crap. I fled the Democratic party many years ago. And one of the reasons was, I couldn’t stand the class resentment, the envy, the hostility to wealth, the cries of “Richie Rich!” And I hear them from conservatives, at least when Romney is running.
So again, whether or not you’re a Romney fan (and I’m not), Nordlinger’s point is well taken. The problem for politicians is it is hard to explain the benefits of capitalism. But it is even harder to refrain from making assaults on another candidate when you think such an assault might be popular and gain votes. After all, the capital of elections is votes. In effect, however, these “conservatives” unknowingly (or uncaringly) back the class warfare message of the left and the OWS crowd. They are engaged in attacking and denigrating the very system they supposedly fervently support and see as the way out of the morass we find ourselves in.
And of course, at some point, depending on how this all turns out during the primary run, one of these “conservatives” may prevail and want to wrap himself in the mantle of “champion of capitalism” to solidify his base. I have to wonder about his reaction when his intemperate words of today are turned on him by his opponent in the race.
UPDATE: Speaking of full on attacks by “conservatives” on Romney, based in twisting his past into an anti-capitalist assault, Newt Gingrich has committed to just that. Even the left, in the person of Jonathan Chait, seems to understand that’s what is happening. As Chait says, the attacks by Gingrich are not substantially different than those from MoveOn.com.
The political effect of these ads is to turn Romney’s chief selling point into a liability – his private-sector experience becomes an indicator not that he will fix the economy but that he will help the already-rich. It’s a smash-you-over-the-head blunt message, with ominous music and storybook dialogue. At one point, the narrator says of Bain’s executives, “their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits.” (Aren’t “greed” and “willingness to do anything to make millions in profits” synonymous terms? Isn’t this like saying “his height was matched only by like lack of shortness”?)
The substantive merits of the attack are, obviously, a lot murkier. Romney’s job at Bain was a classic piece of creative destruction. The proper working of a free market system relies on ruthlessly identifying and closing down non-competitive business concerns. Gingrich’s assault relies on drawing a distinction between real capitalism and the “looting” undertaken by Bain Capital. “If somebody comes in takes all the money out of your company, and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions,” he argues, “that’s not traditional capitalism.” The distinction is utterly ephemeral. It’s a way of saying you’d like all the nice aspects of capitalism without the nasty ones – creating new firms and products without liquidating old ones. For once I agree with inequality-denier and supply-side maven James Pethokoukis, who praises Romney’s work at Bain.
Trust me, when Chait agrees with James Pethokoukis, the reason for such agreement must pretty obvious – the attacks are a load of nonsense that even a leftist like Chait can’t ethically bring himself to accept. Instead, Chait is reduced to emotionalism to at least find a way to take a shot at Romney’s record.
But the point is you have “conservatives” leading the charge and doing the opposition research and framing the attack on one of their own. As an aside, I’ve been telling Newt fans that they’ll eventually see “bad Newt” show up, especially when he starts losing. Well, here he is, in full and living color.