New Romney Ads Are Troubling
Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson died of strychnine poisoning near Greenwood, Miss., on Aug. 16, 1938, at the age of 27.
Legend has it that the devil favored Johnson with exceptional musical prowess and promised to make him famous in exchange for the young bluesman's soul at a crossroads near Dockery Plantation outside of Cleveland, Miss.
That legend drew attention to an obscure talent and sold a lot of records by appealing to our fascination with what a man might sacrifice for personal ambition.
Though Johnson had little trouble supporting himself as a performer from 1932 until his untimely demise, he was all but forgotten until recordings from sessions conducted in a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas, in 1936 were discovered in 1961. By 1986, with a little help from the devil, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2012 he's known the world over.
I think of Robert Johnson when I hear the "President Mitt Romney, Day 1" ads. The third task promised by the ad, approved by Mitt Romney, is, "President Romney issues order to begin replacing Obamacare with commonsense health care reform."
Former Gov. Romney wants the presidency so much that he is determined to dismantle a law deliberately patterned after his signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts - the thing that distinguished him and fueled his rise to prominence on the national stage.
What must it feel like for a proud and intelligent man to have to renounce what he should be proudest of in favor of more "commonsense" solutions?
The other two promises made in the ad are equally troubling, but for different reasons.
His promise to create jobs by approving the Keystone XL pipeline project raises a couple of issues. First, there's no clear consensus as to what kind of job creator that project would be. A study by the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute suggests that the pipeline could kill more jobs than it creates.
Second, it invites us to examine Romney's record as a job creator when he was governor of Massachusetts. Sadly, over those four years his state ranked 47th among the states in job creation.
The second Day 1 promise the ad makes is for tax cuts and reforms "that reward job creators, not punish them."
Can we dispense with that inane phrase, "job creators"? I'm happy for rich people. I work for them more personally and more directly than a lot of people do, and they've been nothing but gracious. But most rich people, at some point, owe their riches to selling goods and services to working people like the rest of us.
In fact, there's an awfully strong case that the most prolific job creator in the history of the world was the American middle class from 1946 until 1979, when we started reforming tax codes to favor "job creators." If having to pay taxes at a rate their parents could only dream of is what's keeping "job creators" from creating jobs, then American labor is doomed - and we have been.
No one begrudges Mr. Romney his wealth. This country has a long history of wealthy populists - Franklin Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, the Kennedys. But if Mitt Romney looks at his peers and thinks he's seeing America, if that's who he's governing for, then that's a serious disconnect. That's a problem.
More likely, Romney - like John McCain in 2008 - is caught up in a game that requires him to sacrifice the distinctions that made him stand out in favor of the conformity his party requires. He has very publicly shifted his stance on immigration, climate change and women's reproductive rights in order to secure the office he covets, the office his backers covet for him, and the influence they covet for themselves.
But by far, his biggest flop is his repudiation of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Romney once said of the reform he helped craft, "If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation."
Now it's the law of the land, and in his zeal to do anything to win our country's highest office, the former governor is campaigning hard against his proudest accomplishment.
The "Day 1" ad plays again on TV, but there's another soundtrack coming from the back of my mind. It's Robert Johnson mournfully wailing, "I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees ..."
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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