I’m on vacation this week, so to provide content in my absence, I’ll be reading/making fun of parts of Mitt Romney’s book the rest of the week (then if I’m up to it, the rest of the book when I’m home). For Monday, here are some general thoughts and the intro.
The book is called “No Apology Believe in America.” I feel like you can make apologies for the bad things America has done in the past — and continues to do — and still believe in it. You can say, people we enslaved, sorry about that, it won’t happen again. People we went to war with who maybe we shouldn’t have, including the native people we took the land from: our bad. Hey Mormons and others we’ve persecuted for your religion: We’ll try to do better next time.
In fact apologizing when we fail to live up to our ideals is something we do because we believe in those ideals. You know who doesn’t apologize when they fuck up? A goddamn sociopath! I may have stepped on your toe, but fuck you for having a toe in the first place: That’s how Mitt Romney’s book title reads to me. But perhaps that’s reading too much into a title.
So, we’ll start off with the intro. Or I think it’s an intro. On the front cover of the book it says, “FEATURING A NEW INTRODUCTION FOR THIS EDITION” and this is before chapter 1. But it’s called “Believe in America” and isn’t actually called an intro in either the table of contents or the chapter head where all of the other chapters are numbered. So maybe just call it chapter 0, or chapter “Believe in America.” It starts off with a story about going to Walmart.*
Sam Walton was all around me.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Bear hug. OK, sorry it’s a metaphor. It’s also possibly the shittiest opening line I’ve read. Anyway, I swear I’m not going to quote every sentence, but here’s the next paragraph.
It was a few days before the Christmas of 2008. I was standing in the checkout line at Walmart, waiting to purchase the Tonka trucks and Buzz Lightyear action figures I has selected for my grandsons. As I looked around the store, I had to chuckle to myself. Somehow, that Walmart reminded me of Sam Walton himself. I’d never met the founder of Walmart, but I had read and heard a good deal about him over the years. People who knew him mentioned his attention to detail, his near maniacal passion about low prices, his plan to carry every single item a customer might want, and that he tended to be a spur-of-the-moment–almost impetuous–manager. I saw these very traits reflected in his store: low prices blazed** from signage, everything from tires to toothpaste were available for purchase, and, well, the store was not as organized and buttoned-down as those of other retailers I know. At target, for example, the aisles are wider and shelves are stocked and segregated like the Swiss might have done it. At Walmart, things look a bit more helter-skelter, more jumbled and maybe a little more entertaining. Yes, Walmart today is a reflection of its founder.
Wait. What about the Swiss? Is that a reference to cantons? Is that just casual racism that I don’t understand — the Swiss stock their aisles like this, but Americans stock their aisles like this. Is this some reference to his time in Europe? I know he spent a good deal of time in France, but has he ever been to Switzerland? I mean I know his money has, but has he? Target is an American store.
Anyway, then there’s a long discussion about how various companies reflect their CEO’s and founders. Microsoft and Apple reflect Gates and Jobs. Disney, reflects Walt Disney. Going to the Disney parks reflects on Walt years after he’s died. Between the Buzz Lightyear and the paragraph about how amazing Disneyland is, I think this intro might be sponsored by Disney.*** Anyway, lots of CEO’s are great. Oddly, he fails to mention that any of the employees at any of those companies might shine through when he’s visiting them. And then he transitions awkwardly from companies to all sorts of institutions, “schools, universities, charities, churches, even religions.” I’m not sure he needed to say “schools” and “universities” or “churches” and “religions.” But are those the only institutions? Please fill me in.
And it’s also true of nations. Nations are shaped by their founders, often for many generations and centuries after those founders are gone. The culture and character of America reflects the nature and convictions of the men and women who founded it.
Italics his. I’m actually going to go out on a limb and say America is better than it was at the founding. We don’t have slavery and we assume that women and people of all races and social classes are fully human. While we still have horrible wars, we’re more or less done with the stealing land phase of the country. I’m looking out my window right now and people are passing on cars and bikes and on foot. Men and women, and people of all races. This city in a place where the founding generation barely knew existed with technology they couldn’t have imagined is really better than they would have dreamed for it. Hell, just the fact that Romney felt he had to tack on “and women” is something the founding generation wouldn’t have thought to do.
Don’t get me wrong, we got a great legacy from this country’s founders. I can’t imagine anyone in the 1770’s and 1780’s anywhere in the world who would have been better to start the country. The notions of fundamental freedom they left us are important. But we also have a more difficult legacy because they were flawed people from a flawed time. This intro doesn’t deal with that beyond one aside in one sentence. “That first choice of freedom by the Founders–incomplete and only perfected by Lincoln four score years later–has made all the difference.” Yes, he thinks Lincoln solved all of our problems in 1856.
So that was cool until the 2006 and 2008 elections. Without naming names, the people who won those elections hate freedom. Then a long quote by Tony Blair, who apparently loves America more than Nancy Pelosi?
And we’re now to sub chapters (sub intros?) that start “Believing in America Means…” First Believing in America Means Believing in Freedom. He tells the story of his mother’s doctor who “hid in the coal bin of a ship that made it to America.” Since he’s a professional and white (a Russian Jew) Mitt doesn’t demand that he self deport. Instead he’s an example of freedom. And also Joe The Plumber was right. Also, Democrats passing laws they promised to pass is anti-freedom. Then he talks about checks and balances, never realizing that getting legislation through those checks might mean the laws they pass are compatible with freedom.
On to sub chapter (sub intro?) Believing in America Means Believing in Free Enterprise. You’ll be shocked to learn that there’s no mention of how large economic players use their power to distort free enterprise, despite that being something the founders knew quite well (hence all that East India Company tea in Boston Harbor). Nor is there any discussion of corporate responsibility generally to the community or to the state or to America. Freedom is letting corporations do whatever they want. Letting corporations devastate communities only increases freedom is what I get from his lack of addressing those things.
So what does he talk about? Why how Obama hates free enterprise. This feels a bit like the gentleman with a silk hat. Obama, you see, is a secret socialist. Then he says because in North Korea unlike South Korea, “citizens are nearly**** starved so that government and the military can be amply fed” any government jobs are inherently bad.
So, what are the awful things that are making us like North Korea? Using TARP money “for bailouts” instead of for saving the financial system, the fact that some unnamed trade talks haven’t been completed, health care, investing in green energy, “the rule of law was ignored in order to reward the auto workers union at General Motors” meaning that it’s different than the bailouts thing, the fact that there are boards and commissions in government, and that business people are being demonized in speeches. You know, socialism. He quotes a friend thinking about moving to France because at least those socialists have “really good food” because America love it or leave it, amirite? Also, if you’re privileged enough that you can seriously consider moving to France, you can get great food in America.
Then he quotes Thatcher, and I suddenly wonder if he meant to call it “Believe in the United Kingdom.” Then he half complains that rich people give “a lot more money” to Democrats than Republicans. I can’t write the infinity question marks to respond to that, so I’ll just write this instead (?*∞). Finally, he gets our history vis-a-vis Europe with the size government exactly backwards, claiming that our system was no government in the market place and not that we rebelled against that in England. So instead of the American System that brought us prosperity versus the rest of the world, he wants to go back to how economics was in England when we rebelled.
And so we’re on to Believing in America Means Believing in Opportunity. Sure, but guess if he points out that some people in America have less opportunity because of the circumstances of their birth? If you guessed “no” give yourself 0 points because that question is too easy. Maybe he would have mentioned it if he wrote the book before Lincoln solved our only problem in 1856.
Now in fairness to Romney, he does mention that at some point in the past there wasn’t equal opportunity, what with slavery and Jim Crow. Also, policies that harmed the Native Americans are mentioned vaguely. But he doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a legacy of those things in the here and now. He mentions rising above the situation of your birth, and that’s great for individuals. But he doesn’t seem to see that that situation of birth can be a problem if anyone can rise above it. The rest of the chapter is dedicated to how the Democrats are ruining everything, so:
Government can promote opportunity or it can crush it. Laws and regulations that govern business practices are essential for markets to function efficiently, fostering economic opportunity.
And you’ll be surprised to learn that elites (people wanting a level playing field are the definition of elites, no doy) who were elected in 2008***** are destroying free enterprise. He lies about tax increases on business and complains that financial regulations, without mentioning those regulations, are “not only depressing opportunity in that sector but also making it more difficult for businesses and entrepreneurs in other sectors to obtain necessary financing.” You’ll be shocked to your core to learn that he doesn’t mention that people weren’t lending before those regulations were enacted.
And now we’re to the penultimate subintro: Believing in America Means Providing for a Better Future. It starts off with a bold declaration that he completely fails to live up to. “I know how John Adams felt.” It goes on to talk about the hardships he suffered being away from his wife and children during the American Revolution to make this country what it would become. And yes, that was tough. But Romney fails to show how he has sacrificed anything at all to provide a better future.
Piggybacking onto Adams’ hardships wasn’t enough though. He then praises the sacrifice of the military. And God bless them, but they aren’t Romney. He doesn’t get to reflect their glory just because he writes a few paragraphs about them. Then he tries to tie them together, “In ways as different as our many occupations, we all make sacrifices for our children, and for the generations of descendents to come.” This would probably be better if he mentioned any of the sacrifices he has made. But he can’t because he has lived a life so privileged that he hasn’t really ever had to make sacrifices.
The rest of the subintro is about how Democrats are ruining everything. Borrowing is bad, blah blah teachers unions. You know who hates children? Teachers! Clearly.
And the final subintro is called The Choice for America. It’s more or less the same arguments he’s already made. The founders all agreed that we should have equal opportunity but that same “liberal elite” want equal outcomes. Again, he doesn’t mention how financial regulation or moderate tax increase on the wealthy or regulations would lead to equal outcomes: it’s just a given.
And finally (finally!) the last couple paragraphs.
They are also highly suspicious of free enterprise because it offers unparalleled opportunity for individual success and reward, and thus enables inequality. They endeavor to grow the scale of government, to empower it to guide the economy and make better choices for the people. While few of the liberal elite would ever openly advocate for the diminution of freedom and opportunity, that is the inevitable product of their policies.
OK player. A tax rate well below what it was for decades in the postwar period and regulation that you don’t like are going to destroy freedom and opportunity. This is logical.
These fellow Americans fail to appreciate the power of the choice that was made by the Founders—theirs was the creed of the pioneer, the innovator, the striver who expects no guarantee of success but asks only to live and work in freedom. This liberating inventing, creating, independent, current now runs from coast to coast. It has produced not only the renown, like Bill Gates. It also accounts for the men and women of every occupation who strive, who explore, who go beyond what is expected of them to reach for breakthrough and accomplishment. It is the engineer who tries to get one more mile from a gallon of gasoline, the chef who creates new recipes, the salesperson who goes off-script to make the sale, the educator who works with a child after school, the programmer who can’t rest until she has eliminated every excess line of code, the entrepreneur who starts his own business, the kid who launches a commercial site on the Internet, the person who edits an entry on Wikipedia, the farmer who plants a new variety—the list is endless. The pursuit of achievement, of discovery, of greatness, is what has made America the powerhouse of the world. And it has made us happy as well. Smother this spirit with the weight of government and America ceases to be America. That is what Washington is doing, and we must not allow it. Washington believes in itself. The American people believe in America.
Holy balls was that a long paragraph. And yet, I’m guessing the list isn’t as endless as Mitt thinks if editing Wikipedia part of what he mentions. That feels like he’s padding it. But does he not understand that that list can apply to pretty much every country? My God, if the marginal tax rate goes up, nobody will teach children or edit Wikipedia! Also, that engineer is probably striving to meet government standards to increase efficiency, so government regulation didn’t diminish that. Look, the entrepreneurial spirit is great. But whatever Mitt Romney’s straw man attacks mean for America, it isn’t what Democrats are doing to the country.
OK, this chapter took a lot longer to write than I’d thought when I started it (the only other thing I’ve tried was Lou Guzzo’s gigantic font, tiny chapter nonsense, and I just breezed through those). And this post is too long. So I think I’m going to break up the chapters for the rest of the book. The beginning of chapter 1 tomorrow.
* I’m totally sure he’s always going to Walmart and didn’t just include this story so he could imply how downhome he is.
** Do prices blaze? This is a strange metaphor. It’s been well over a decade since I’ve been in a Walmart, but I don’t remember any signs on fire with low prices. If so, maybe go to the fire extinguisher aisle. It’s also possible that Mitt Romney was on drugs, and just thought it was on fire: I don’t want to discount this possibility.
*** Full disclosure, I own about 60 shares of Disney stock.
**** Nearly???? Do I think North Korea is worse than Romney does?
*****Not 2006 this time, so I guess it doesn’t apply to Nancy Pelosi? Seriously, someone get Mitt Romney’s ghost writer a proof reader.