Imagining the Romney Doll
Believe it or not, you can still buy a George W. Bush "Elite Force Aviator" 12-inch action figure to commemorate his 2003 aircraft carrier "Mission Accomplished" photo op prematurely celebrating victory over Iraq. Amazon offers them for $74.99.
As Republican fetishes go, nothing will ever top it.
So let's say you wanted to market a Mitt Romney action figure to enhance the GOP candidate's chances among voters who play with dolls. How would you dress the thing? There appear to be several possibilities, none very flattering.
No warrior poses, of course, because Romney sat out Vietnam as a Mormon missionary in Paris, where he learned to speak French but converted not a soul. Now he's keen for war with Iran, about which one thing's certain: no son or grandson of his will serve.
A Governor Mitt doll could only resemble a statue of the Roman god Janus, usually depicted with two faces symbolizing his ability to see the past and the future. In Romney's case, both faces would signify extremely flexible convictions. As Massachusetts governor, Mitt was all for government-imposed health insurance mandates; now he's categorically opposed.
It's been fascinating watching the candidate explain how money paid to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue in lieu of buying health insurance is a "penalty," while money shelled out to the IRS under identical circumstances constitutes a "tax."
Who does he think he's fooling? Back in 2009, when Romney wrote a USA Today column urging President Obama to adopt a health care mandate, he called it a "tax penalty." You provide proof of health insurance or you pay a penalty. How hard is that?
To be fair, Obama's been similarly evasive. To be even fairer, the Massachusetts tax penalty is much higher than "Obamacare's" -- half the cost of a yearly health insurance premium, assessed on state income taxes.
Observing this ludicrous spectacle, former Bush speechwriter Matt Larimer predicts that Romney can't help but be "haunted throughout the campaign by unforced errors to explain his various shifts: the weak evasions to questions, the odd explanations, the bizarrely unnecessary misstatements."
"Name a single controversial political position Romney has taken in his career that he has stuck to," Larimer asks, "regardless of the political consequences, regardless of the criticism he's received. Anyone?"
Um, not me.
You vote for Romney, you have NO IDEA what you're getting. Absolutely none. However, there are signs the candidate may actually benefit from his sheer lack of conviction. Robert Draper reports in the New York Times Magazine that when focus groups are informed that Romney champions Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, thus... "'ending Medicare as we know it' -- while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing."
Then how about a Job Creator Mitt doll, depicting Romney as Romney wishes to be seen? Once again, costuming is a problem. I'm extremely fond of that PR photo of Romney and his Bain Capital colleagues grinning maniacally with $20 bills hanging out of their pockets and stuck in their ears.
You could dress him up like Scrooge McDuck, top hat, pince-nez and spats, except that the Disney tycoon wore no pants -- the better to dabble in his bullion pool, I suppose. Besides, Romney's avarice is of a distinctly contemporary kind. The 19th- and 20th-century industrialists that the Disney character satirized actually built things -- railroads, oil and mining empires, automobiles, etc.
Outfits like Bain Capital are products of the computer age, and of financial deregulation. They don't make things. They accumulate wealth through stock speculation, tax arbitrage, currency manipulation, "outsourcing" and "offshoring" jobs, basically manipulating money with no regard for the companies or communities affected.
Successful investments are one thing. But if there's money to be made by acquiring a company, borrowing against its assets and driving it into bankruptcy -- that's OK, too. A recent Vanity Fair article on Romney's finances lists a half-dozen "formerly healthy companies" Bain treated that way during his tenure. The scandal is what's legal.
Vanity Fair also documents that fully 55 pages in Romney's 2010 tax return -- the only one he's condescended to release -- "are devoted to reporting his transactions with foreign entities." The candidate has multi-million dollar bank accounts in foreign tax havens. He's got upwards of $100 million stashed in a tax-free IRA supposedly limited to $30,000 yearly deposits.
So here's my suggestion: dress the Mitt Romney action figure in the national costumes of the countries where his money lives -- lederhosen for the Swiss accounts, a Jimmy Buffett beach-bum outfit for the Caymans, an all-white cricket uniform for the Bahamas, etc.
Then, win or lose, Job Creator Mitt can visit his money in style.
Gene Lyons, Arkansas Times columnist, is at email@example.com.