Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Best Guess Yet About the "What Mitt Really Believes" Mystery

I had always been in the camp that holds that Romney truly believes nothing save that A) rich people should have more money, and the poor less; B) Mormonism is true, and, above all, C) Mitt Romney should be president -- those being the only three beliefs that Romney seems to have been consistent about supporting throughout his career.  (And, in fact, he's played down #1, at least rhetorically, since the first debate.)

But Jonathan Chait has an argument about Romney's true beliefs that strikes me as quite convincing:
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 √úbermenschen — 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.
Now, mind you, I don't actually think it matters what Romney truly believes: if elected (chas v'shalom), he'll respond as president to the same pressures that he responded to in the Republican primaries, and govern as the committed leader of an increasingly rabid far-right party.  So his true beliefs are of mere academic interest.  Unless you want the reality-challenged beliefs of the current far-right to be implemented, you need to vote for the center-right conservative candidate, Obama, over the far-right lunatic candidate, Romney.  Bad as Obama has been in many ways, Romney promises to be far worse in all of them.  So the 'who to vote for' question is, sadly, clear.  Still, as far as academic interest goes, I think Chait may have nailed it.

And anyway, we'll never know -- whatever happens Tuesday.

Update (Nov 4): Here's another view about Romney's core, quite different from Chait's, but also quite interesting if you're into that sort of thing.  Here's the core of the piece:
Success in the number of fields that superstar CEOs enter, Freeland says, tends to encourage “a sense of mastery, and that sense of mastery gives them a belief they can do anything.” And Romney has been more successful in more fields than almost any CEO in history.

This is why Romney thinks he should be president. A lifetime of data has proved to him that his management skills constitute a unique and powerful contribution. In Romney’s world, there’s nothing strange about that, which may also explain his willingness to be unusually strategic, even cynical, about the policies he supports....

The answer, then, to the question “What does Mitt Romney think?” is this: It matters even less what Romney thinks than it matters for most presidents. Romney’s policy preferences are unusually weak, his deal-making instincts are unusually strong and his party will be unusually aggressive in policing his agenda.
Which brings us back to the batshit insane nature of the the contemporary Republican party, whose whims Romney would serve.  Scary thought.

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