WASHINGTON, April 7, 2012—After winning the Wisconsin primary last Tuesday night, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney first thanked his supporters, then hinted at his plans to establish an “Opportunity Society” in America. It appears that Romney is looking to restore former President George W. Bush’s vision for the country, economic collapse and all.
As Romney and the Republican establishment begin look ahead to the nomination and the presidential race, it’s worth looking into what this vision would entail – and why history could repeat itself in an ugly way if it comes to pass.
Contrasting his plans for America with Obama’s, who the Republican claimed “has spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new Government-Centered Society,” Romney declared that he “will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation for our Opportunity Society, led by free people and free enterprises.”
Although Romney correctly realizes that rhetoric about an “Opportunity Society” may be the best way to capitalize on the anti-Obama vitriol that is exceedingly popular within the Republican base, he fails to understand that there are two glaring problems within it: It ignores the facts, and it is downright delusional as a solution to America’s problems.
Romney’s campaign hasn’t yet explained clearly what his Opportunity Society would entail, opting instead to rail against what he perceives to be excessive government spending under Obama. Given the degree to which the Republican establishment is now completely beholden to the Tea Party, where the “Obama-is-a-socialist” mantra reigns supreme, Romney’s portrayal of Obama as a social democrat seeking only to extend the hand of big government is to be expected.
It must be conceded that government spending has spiraled out of control and that entitlement programs are quickly becoming unsustainable. Many elements of American society – social security, Medicare and Medicaid, and public schooling – are in danger of becoming things of the past.
But the audacity of those who claim that Obama is to blame for the current state of affairs is striking, especially coming from someone whose party largely forced the President’s hand in extending tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the very rich at everyone else’s expense. This certainly does allow a certain segment of the population the “opportunity” to further erode the tax base, but it does little to address the widening income inequality within American society.
If you look at the data, you’ll see that Obama has actually been more fiscally conservative than each of the past three Republican presidents.
Romney’s vision fails to take into account the already crippling effects of the Bush-era tax cuts on the American economy almost a decade after they were put in place. It ignores the deleterious impact of large-scale deregulation on Wall Street, and turns a blind eye to the utter failure of the housing market to rebound after four years of poor performance into account.
But what’s most concerning about all of this is the fact that we’re in eerily familiar territory. All of the problems listed above are directly attributable to Bush’s vision for an “Ownership Society,” a vision that, for one reason or another, Romney wishes to replicate.
The disastrous outcome of allowing banks to re-package and trade volatile mortgages obtained by unqualified individuals is well documented. Perhaps Bush Jr. had good intentions in trying to foster a society where every family owns their own home, but unfortunately everyone knows all too well what the road to hell is paved with.
Now it appears that Romney wishes to head directly back down that road if elected President.
In stark terms, creating the conditions for an “opportunity society” entails a return to mass privatization and deregulation. What Romney wants to do is foster the same environment of dangerously unbridled capitalism that led to the excesses of the first decade of the 21st century – and the eventual economic crisis within which we are still mired.
Suggesting that mass privatization, deregulation, and across-the-board tax cuts are an effective solution to the myriad problems afflicting American society is simply off the mark. History has proven this is true, and if Romney has his way, it will be proven once again.
The debate that is shaping up between Obama and Romney involves two classically opposing views for society. It goes to the very core of philosophical principle, incorporating elements of distributive justice and individual liberty. It is a complex debate, and one that will define presidential elections for decades to come. If nothing else, this discussion is sure to offer a welcome reprieve from the tiresome arguments over whether Romney is “conservative enough” for the Republican base, or whether Obama really is looking to destroy private enterprise.
But let’s just be clear about one thing: Romney’s Opportunity Society will not create opportunities for all. It will only provide opportunities for private interests to dictate the terms of economic justice, for investment banks to act irresponsibly, and for the rich to get richer. Nostalgia for the failed policies George W. Bush seems to be the order of the day.
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