Mitt Romney can be funny.
That's how I saw it when he confronted a protester during the South Carolina primaries. The young man had asked how the former Massachusetts governor, as a member of the 1 percent, planned to support the 99 percent. Romney gave an answer that he'd been polishing for a week about the need for unity during our country's darkest hour, and that demands of the 1 percent were attempts at division and rancor among the citizenry. Then he cited countries we were supposed to understand were not better even as he said:
"If you've got a better model, if you think China's better, orRussia'sbetter, orCuba'sbetter, or North Korea's better, I'm glad to hear all about it. But you know what, you know what, America's right and you're wrong."
It was an uncharacteristic moment of candor for the metabolically stiff Romney, and his campaign staff briefly hyped the video to humanize their quarter-billionaire, a candidate who calls earning tens of thousands in speaking fees "not much" and calls questions about the basic fairness of America's enormous income inequality mere envy.
But back to the funny part. In the video of that moment, we can't see the protester, but in my imagination, I see the look on his face. It's of total befuddlement, as if to say: "Did he really just say that?" And what's befuddling isn't that Romney told him to love America or leave it, but that his references were super-fresh. In 1984.
Russia has been ostensibly democratic for a while. China is communist when it's not a global capitalist powerhouse.
And Cuba? Really, Cuba?
That he remembered to name-check Cuba before North Korea (whose million-man army is kinda scary) says something about Romney. He's old enough to recall a time when Red-baiting was an effective means of suppressing class consciousness, but sadly for him, Red-baiting is hard when communists are a national security threat that ranks right up there with Quakers.
The downside to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 was that the power elite no longer had an alien bogeyman with which to dampen radical dissent. The War on Terror later replaced communism as the foundation for our perpetual national crisis state, but, listening to Romney and other men of a certain age, it appears that the rhetoric of the Cold War won't ever go away, not as long as it remains a useful tool of political coercion.
A small confession. During the 2008 presidential election, I laughed at John McCain. Not because he picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, but because he was the first to call then-candidate Barack Obama a socialist. To me, that seemed utterly out of touch, and so not what you want to hear from an old guy gunning for the presidency. True, Obama had provided an opening by openly discussing wealth redistribution, but McCain seemed to say "socialist" with a mix of contempt and moth balls. In a way, I could imagine him scrunching his nose before saying "kraut."
So that's not very nice, but still, I have a point. "Socialism" isn't what it used to be, because socialism is not the diametrical opposite of capitalism, just as the U.S.S.R. is not the geopolitical counterweight to the U.S. Without that balance of power, in which there is no mutually assured destruction without mutual assurance, Cold Warriors look as if they're boxing at shadows.
Indeed, the more Romney bullies young Americans with his with-us-or-against-us taunts, and the more former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bloviates over Obama's leading the country down the road to a "secular, European-style bureaucratic socialist system," the more these candidates, and by extension their Republican Party, are going to alienate young voters left and right.
Implicit in their Cold War rhetoric is the assumption that good-old American capitalism is the best there ever was, but we know now more than we ever did during the Cold War that that's really not the case. According to a recent Pew poll, only 50 percent of all voters have a positive view of capitalism while 40 percent have a negative view. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 49 percent have a positive view of socialism. No surprise, the older the respondent, the more negative "socialism" is.
Thanks to Mitt Romney and his millions, along with the rise of a national protest movement, we are becoming more and more aware of class differences. Even Politico ran a piece that remarked on the class differences between Romney and Gingrich supporters. When 66 percent of the public (yes, another Pew poll) believes there is a fundamental conflict between rich and poor in this country (nearly 20 percent more than in 2009), you've got to wonder why Romney and Gingrich keep on keeping on with the Cold War rhetoric.
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