John Kerry, 2012 Democratic National Convention
Yesterday, on MSNBC's Martin Bashir show, John Soltz, of VoteVets.org, answered a Bashir question about Mitt Romney's failure to mention the Afghanistan war, or the men and women who fought and still fight there:
"[I]t doesn't surprise me . . . Unfortunately for Governor Romney he's got George Bush advisers and his plan in Afghanistan is ten times worse [than President Obama's plan] where he wants to continue large numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan past 2014 with no clear cut vision to end the war . . . So, obviously, I think the Republicans don't want to stand up and talk about how their position is supported, you know, by about maybe 20% of the population. And now the veterans' budget, you know, the cuts are about 13% of the budget from what the President is proposing, an $11 billion dollar cut." [See his statement in full here]Many have wondered about the GOP's schizoid attitude toward the armed forces, not its hardware, but its people. A party lately known for flag waving militarism and paeans to our war dead and wounded has for decades unfairly trumped Democrats as the party of the soldier, the sailor, the flyer. Nonetheless, many within the GOP of the past dozen years have often belied their hotwire patriotism, their stiff salutes, their Veterans' Day speeches, by failing to truly "support the troops" where it matters, their physical, mental, and spiritual welfare. In fact, these Republicans repeatedly act in policy matters with little but contempt toward the people who, as they always say, "fight and die for our freedoms."
The mismatch is jarring. I have a theory about it that I've not heard voiced against Romney or Ryan as directly as I will below. See if you think it has merit.
Firstly, Mr. Romney. About that demigod of self-aggrandizement, accustomed as he is to deconstructing businesses and often setting adrift their employees, it's legitimate to wonder how he views our military men and women. With his vainglorious attitude toward his Bain career loudly on record, it's arguably consistent to suspect that, as a mind-set, Mitt's habit is to view Army NCOs, for example, as a category of "line employee," not altogether unlike employees of any other business he's encountered. In this case it's a national warmaking business, with millions more of employees than he's ever redeployed or mistreated, but nonetheless, it's all essentially embedded within a business model. Familiar territory, like Bush II Sec Def Donald "stuff happens" Rumsfeld familiar territory.
As well, in this paranoia-induced Republican-Tea Party-Ron Paul-inspired anti-government climate, the U.S. armed services "business" - although, to them, one of the few legitimate exercises of federal authority - is by definition a public sector creature. So it's necessarily hamstrung by the governmental bureaucracy and inefficiency that folks like Mitt Romney see lurking everywhere a government agency tries to prosper. Military workers are government workers. In many Republican minds, and, from the private equity habit in Romney's mind, this pool of what they call "human capital" is always and forever in need of vigorous businesslike downsizing and unsentimental micro-management. Again, Donald Rumsfeld style.
Moreover, when of draftable military age during the Vietnam war, Mitt was involuntarily and dangerously stuck pedaling throughout France, unarmed, fighting off French bread salesmen and snotty waiters. So, crucially, as a result he has no direct experience of military life. Missing in Mitt is the character leavening and social leveling that campfire and gunfire life in Khe Sahn might have provided. So, all in all, we're not out of line to wonder if he has simpatico for our active duty military and our veterans. Are we?
Secondly, Mr. Ryan. Paul Ryan has an even more privileged background than Mitt Romney, whose father George struggled out of and through the depression and beyond. Ryan, though, is a great grandson of the founder of 128 year old construction firm Ryan Incorporated Central, which, ironically (and off topic), made its way to prominence and wealth in large part through those dreaded taxpayer financed infrastructure projects from railroads to airports to highways to defense contracts.
Studious, industrious Paul is among those who suffer the mental and spiritual decompensation that springs from the Ayn Rand virus (ARV), endemic among Republicans. The illness is activated by the convergence of four primary vectors:
* close contact with a selfishly stubborn and incessantly verbose fictional character named Howard Roark, a man considerably unable to play well with others, and with an over-fondness for high explosives as a tool for social commentary,This disease, unless treated by emergence from adolescence or from a personality disorder, creates in its victims - not to put too fine a point on it - markedly unsentimental turns of mind. Paul Ryan's got it bad.
* full ingestion of Atlas Shrugged, a dystopian novel of interminable length, which posits a world within which people like me would clearly be on the permanent outs,
* acceptance of Rand's unalloyed dogmatism, delivered in a tone which, in one of his dismissals of Rand none other than conservative icon William Buckley labeled as a "hard, schematic, implacable, unyielding dogmatism that is in itself intrinsically objectionable", and
* continuous inexplicable attraction to Rand's manic overarching, overreaching, and overcompensating distaste for the common man and common woman, especially those down on their luck or born into generations of poverty, and - as the chicken emerges from the egg - her utter disdain for what many of us highly value and seek to improve and extend: "the general welfare," and "the common good."
On topic, the Rand Syndrome (TRS) helps, for example, make understandable that in Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget plan nowhere does he include a discussion of, or mention of, military veterans and their welfare. Nowhere. There are three million veterans and an additional one million more soon on the way. In addition, Ryan and many Rand-infected sufferers in his political party have 2013 budget plans that include quite massive cuts to veterans benefits, some 13%, as well as even more draconian cuts to programs that, outside Veterans Administration services, greatly benefit veterans and their families, programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
In addition, Mr. Ryan had (for the world-at-large anyway) the misfortune to begin his Capitol Hill career as a go getter in the office of Republican Congressman Jack Kemp. Although by today's choleric Republican standards Kemp was one of more humane members of the original public sector wrecking crew during the Reagan years, within Kemp's confines young Paul Ryan was initiated into mysteries of voodoo rituals like the supply side religion summoned by Professor Arthur Laffer, and the cult of the Tax-Free Zonists. Unlike reality testing persons, Ryan has remained a true supply side believer; he made a hard right turn at the intersection of Fact and Anything Goes.
Incidentally, the Laffer Complex (TLC) is another viral infection which, like Ayn Rand Syndrome, is endemic in GOP nation. Romney, of course, is a carrier as well. When combined with Ayn Rand Syndrome this infection drives Ryan and his fellow sufferers even deeper into an alternate universe where the tooth fairy and Disney characters roam, but are armed to the teeth.
What has happened? How can it be that for a majority of Republican state and federal legislators in our country our - their - military men and women are viewed as blue collar cogs in a war machine that, since George W. Bush's neo-con orgy, continues, even under a sympathetic President, to grind out killing and dying and dismemberment and suicide and trauma and grieving parents and wives and husbands and children and humans known as collateral damage. We thought they treated teachers, police, and firefighter unions badly. . .
The Public Religion of Private Equity. No doubt, we're at this Rubicon-like beachhead partly due to Ayn Rand, but her spirit numbing effect has turbocharged the simultaneous ascendancy of Romney's corporate worldview, in particular, an amoral private equity worldview. This attitude, lifted in recent years to religious status, is focused upon what is called by Republicans "creative destruction," not on building a product as was the corporate worldview of Mitt's Dad, the bygone chairman of American Motors. This ascendancy is one of the results of America having become a service economy where the financial genius behind mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations are now among our primary products. Accompanied by a revitalized Rand philosophy of unapologetic self-aggrandizement in the second Bush presidency, it has blunted the discussion or application of social ethics to business policies. Mitt's business, Bain capital, was a subset of all that.
Surely, private equity strategies have an important place in a society like ours, they can bring about changes in companies that strengthen them. But a socially useful private equity firm must have the good of the target company at least somewhere within its business plan. Romney and Bain, however, seem to have lacked that motivation; he and they accomplished more destruction than creation. Much of this is a misreading of Adam Smith, one of the GOP's demi-gods, a man who they wrongly believe was unalterably opposed to business regulation. To be truly profitable for its owners and shareholders, a Bain Capital, a company with a preponderance of profit motive alone powering its dealings, a paucity of regulation is necessary. It cannot exist in a fairly regulated environment, particularly one which strives to protect the working man and woman. Like Rand, it's everyone for themselves. (Off topic: Oddly, they often criticize or deny social, or any kind of Darwinism on religious grounds, but not here, where there a buck on the line. Then, Darwinism and survival of the fittest is a religion.)
Back to Romney: This record of unrestrained self-aggrandizement is Mitt's self-proclaimed bona fide for President, he has nothing else (lately he nearly flat out denies, Newt Gingrich style, that he was ever governor of Massachusetts). He trots out his (supposed) business acumen whenever he feels he can get away with it in a news cycle, although that too seems to be fading. Mitt's stuck with Mitt. We're stuck with Mitt, at least until November 6th or 7th. Let us pray it's over by then, or Katy bar the door. . .
And finally because of its importance, and once again, we're at this historic political choke point because Ayn Rand was born to a middle class family thriving in Czarist Russia and then lived out her rather lonely and isolated teen years during the revolution while witnessing her family's ruination at the hands of the Bolsheviks. In college she began assembling her reaction to it all: a deep-seated anger at collectivism, and to some extent, at family, Plato, and gods in all forms. Her god became individualism, her motives inspired by self alone. And then, woe is us, she happened upon a typewriter.
For Paul Ryan and his fellow travelers, Rand's extreme cult of absolute freedom and rank individualism, her demonizing of altruism and deification of perhaps the most extreme form of self-concern in world history, and her overcompensating by dehumanizing and distrusting most ordinary humans and governments has, for now in many GOP cadres, overwhelmed nearly all the balancing effects of our gentler angels: fairness, compassion, kindness, and cooperation for the common good. On the point of this essay, our average soldiers, sailors, and flyers, somehow and inexplicably (unless you understand Rand), are dumped by those present day Randian cultists exemplified by Paul Ryan into the realm of the ordinary employee where, after their services are rendered, they may be abandoned to whatever fate they can hardscrabble for themselves, just like any other employees. Recall that Rand's world is bereft of any sense of platonic firmness or sentimentality.
Ryan and Romney would, at least publicly, deny these sentiments I ascribe to them. But like some viruses, Rand's influence is invisible to its carriers. Yet, to both Romney and Ryan I'd say, "Shifting economic burdens to the masses, and exempting Randian "prime movers" is the logical conclusion of her philosophy, whether you realize it or not." How deeply has burrowed the unresolved fury and remarkably prolific psychosis of an unfortunate woman. Woe to the "second-handers" of The Fountainhead . . .
So, with the top of the 2012 GOP presidential ticket staffed as it is with a man composed primarily of straw and void, and with a spoil sport undereducated adolescent as his high priest, we are faced with the heretofore unthinkable proposition that our nation's soldiers, sailors, and flyers are entitled to no more than any employees in any other public sector job. Cut and burn them all!
To many in the GOP, the party with a still solid chance to win the presidency, retain the House, and capture the Senate in November, military veterans and those presently serving are owed little, and entitled to not much more than what they need to do their "jobs." Let's not be altruistically sentimental. They are publicly financed lunch box workers in the deconstruction business. They should save their money, or, as Romney advises students, borrow from their parents, go to school, start a business, stop looting and quit mooching. Get a real job. Apply to Bain Capital.