Willard Mitt Romney: The Coloring Book Candidate

The Romney Strategy is beginning to evolve into something recognizable.  The problem is that it’s an amorphous shape that Etch-A-Sketches to fit any audience.  Think Progress offers a Magnificent Seven specific issues the Republican candidate won’t address.  There’s plenty of room to review some of  these points and to add more depth.

Ladies First: Governor Romney sidestepped when asked about supporting the provisions of the Lily Ledbetter Act [TP] but wait, there’s more.  During the flap about this dodge and weave the Romney campaign offered that the candidate “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.” [HuffPo] It’s important to note that the Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act are NOT the same thing — so, when candidate Romney was pressed on whether or not he would support the Paycheck Fairness Act he demurred, and responded with his attack line “The President should be more worried about jobs for women.” [HuffPo] And here we have the first page of our coloring book — Yes! the candidate is all for “pay equity” BUT maybe not for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

There’s another riddle to be teased out of the Romney commentary as well.  Romney charges that 92% of the job losses in this “dire economy” have been those of women.   Factcheck analyzed the number and found it wanting.  They even created their own chart:

Women’s jobs haven’t rebounded like those for men. Why is that?

 “If you look back to the start of the recession, many of the industries (construction and manufacturing) that were very hard hit initially were male-dominated,” said Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with FactCheck.org.

It wasn’t until later that jobs like retail and government jobs, particularly teaching jobs, began to take a hit, affecting women more, Dorfman said. Those jobs have been slower to recover.  [FactCheck] (emphasis added)

Those  job hits in government include teaching jobs lost when state and local funds weren’t available to maintain school staffing levels.   Thus, if candidate Romney were really serious about creating jobs for the women who were laid off then he’d be advocating plans to rehire teachers?  Uh, no.   According to the Department of Labor, women hold 68.6% of the jobs in the education sector, and 79% of the jobs in health and social services. [DoL spc rpt] Obviously, when teaching and health/social services jobs are cut women take the hit.

What did he have to say about education?  Is his “plan” something that would create  or save teaching jobs?

“… education has to be held at the local and state level, not at the federal level. We need get the federal government out of education. And secondly, all the talk about we need smaller classroom size, look that’s promoted by the teachers unions to hire more teachers. We looked at what drives good education in our state, what we found is the best thing for education is great teachers, hire the very best and brightest to be teachers, pay them properly, make sure that you have school choice, test your kids to see if they are meeting the standards that need to be met, and make sure that you put the parents in charge. And as president I will stand up to the National Teachers Unions… [Romney on Education] (emphasis added)

Not so much.  (a) Romney’s parroting the right wing line that the federal government has little if any interest in engaging in what has historically been a state and local concern.  This approach ignores federal contributions to Title I, special education, all the way around to school lunch programs and student loans.  If it’s a “state responsibility” then the federal government isn’t obliged to establish policy toward increasing the number of teaching jobs.  Sorry ladies.  (b) “We need to get the federal government out of education…”  (c) advocating for smaller class sizes is just a way for the unions to pressure school districts to hire more teachers?   Tell that to parents of a kindergartener in a class with 35 other kids. By the way, the right wing advocates have also charged that increasing the standards for teaching certificates is also a union plot to create artificial shortages of teachers and thereby to drive up wages.  (d) Ah, “school choice,” read: charters, vouchers, and other anti-public education schemes.  (e)Put parents in charge,” of what?  Let’s guess it’s a “market based solution” in which parent have a “choice” of privately operated schools.  Romney’s comments establish his bona fides as a “coupon conservative.”  This doesn’t sound much like a program to increase jobs for women.

In short, candidate Romney really hasn’t said anything, he’s merely provided some short-hand sound bites about “pay equity” (good) but “Pay Check Fairness Act” (maybe not), and “jobs for women” (good) but increasing employment in education where women’s jobs are saved or lost (Union Plot!) and the federal government doesn’t have any reason to get involved (except to promote school vouchers and beef up the bottom lines of test publication corporations).  The audience is invited to fill in the gaps with  preconceived notions already framed about Romney’s candidacy.  He is, politically speaking, a very empty suit into which a voter’s inclinations can be conveniently poured — one size fits all. Color him in with whatever shades you like.

Dearth and Taxes:   The Romney taxation policy is a great void of unspecified promises and equally vague notions.   Heaven knows the Tax Policy Center tried to run an analysis and this is as far as they got:

“Governor Romney would permanently extend all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts now scheduled to expire in 2013, repeal the AMT and certain tax provisions in the 2010 health reform legislation, and cut individual income tax rates by an additional 20 percent. He would also expand the tax base by cutting back tax preferences, but has supplied no information on which preferences would be reduced. Tax provisions in the 2009 stimulus act and subsequently extended through 2012 would expire. These include the American Opportunity tax credit for higher education, the expanded refundability of the child credit, and the expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC). The plan would also eliminate tax on long-term capital gains, dividends, and interest income for married couples filing jointly with income under $200,000 ($100,000 for single filers and $150,000 for heads of household) and repeal the federal estate tax, while continuing the gift tax with a maximum tax rate of 35 percent.2

The plan would reduce the six current income tax rates by one-fifth, bringing the top rate down from 35 percent to 28 percent and the bottom rate from 10 percent to 8 percent. The accompanying repeal of the AMT would increase the tax savings from the rate cuts—without that repeal, the AMT would reclaim much of the tax savings.”

Only the most die-hard ideologues are still clutching the fabrication that reduced taxation yields increased revenue, so how does Governor Romney propose to pay for this?

The plan would recoup the revenue loss caused by those changes by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks, thereby making more income subject to tax. Gov. Romney says that the reductions in tax breaks, in combination with moderately faster economic growth brought about by lower tax rates, will make the individual income tax changes revenue neutral compared with simply extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. He also promises that low- and middle-income households will pay no larger shares of federal taxes than they do now. [TPC](emphasis added)

What tax breaks would be reduced or eliminated?  He won’t say.  He’s already admitted that the Congressional Budget Office can’t score the plan because the “details will have to be worked out with Congress.” [TP] The idea that “we’ll work out all the details later” is becoming a recurrent theme with the former Governor.  Witness the immigration issue, wherein he won’t say if he’d continue President Obama’s policy on undocumented youngsters, because he’ll work out a Really Big Plan with Congress later.

What the audience may be listening for is “I’ll reduce taxes,and everything will be all right when I work it all out with Congress.”    The general guidelines are a bonus to the 1%, as reported by CNNMoney:

“Assuming the Bush tax cuts are extended, the Romney plan would give the top 1% of earners an average tax cut of $150,000, a 7.8% reduction in their average federal tax rate, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Americans in the middle 20% of income-earners would get an average tax cut of $810, a 1.4% tax rate reduction.Those making $1 million or more would receive an average tax cut of $250,000, an 8.1% tax rate reduction, while the average American would get $2,800, a 3.5% rate drop.”

The generalized Romney plan would definitely lower the effective tax rate for those in the upper income brackets:

But, Gee! Tax Cuts for Everybody  sounds so nice in the focus groups.  And, we’ll pay for it all by closing those loopholes I won’t specify….when I work it out…with Congress….  Color in your candidate with the crayon of your choice.

One of the nice things about being a Coloring Book Candidate is that whenever someone opines about the impact of your policy directives there’s always a back door to say, “I didn’t really mean that, my opponents are just trying to mis-characterize my position.”

So, what are we supposed to do with the hints about specifically what deductions and loopholes our Coloring Book Candidate is going to adjust?

One hint: “Romney also reportedly said he would probably eliminate the second-home mortgage deduction for high-income earners, as well as deductions for state income taxes and state property taxes.”  [CBS]

Right on cue, when objections were raised to eliminating these deductions the Romney Campaign said, “… he was merely responding to questions offering suggestions during the fundraiser, ” and “During a conference call, aides said Romney he was simply throwing out ideas, not outlining policy when he said he would combine or eliminate many government departments, agencies and tax credits to help offset his proposal to slash all U.S. tax rates by 20 percent.”  [Reuters]

Wasn’t that easy?  Any time someone objects or points out the counter-productive elements of a proposal, the Coloring Book Candidate merely slides gently out the most convenient exit — “I was Just Sayin.”

Back in the Dark Ages of Black and White Television there was a children’s program called “Winky Dink and You,” and for something like 50 cents you could order a sheet of plastic ( that was supposed to stick to the screen via the good offices of static electricity) and a collection of Genuine Original Winky Dink crayons.  Episodes contained a segment wherein the Little Viewer was supposed to Connect the Dots to complete a picture advancing the story line.  Many parents were none too pleased with Little Viewers who did not bother to attach the plastic cover, and found it more efficient to just draw directly on the TV screen.

Modern day voters, some of whom may have memories (fond, or not so fond when the vinyl sheet wasn’t used or got lost) of Winky Dink, are now invited to revisit those days when a person could create the desired colored scene before them.   Mitt Romney’s campaign invites you to approach the television set and figuratively color in his policies with what ever crayon from your Winky Dink collection you prefer.  Like the crusted wax on the TV screen of old, adults may be required to come in later and clean up the mess.

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