Romney’s supposed gaffe and the “hack gap” between the parties

Matt Zeitlin has a nice column on the Romney “corporations are people” clip and the genuine “hack gap” between Democratic and Republican parties.

Matthew Zeitlin has a nice New Republic post on the Romney “corporations are people” clip and the very real “hack gap” between Democratic and Republican parties.

The title of my own comment on this imbroglio, Separating the wheat from the gaffe, telegraphs my view. What Romney said is obviously true, and everyone who thinks seriously about economic policy understands it. Taxes on corporations fall on the owners of corporations and on other stakeholders. On the specifics, this particular attack on Romney is devoid of substance.

Of course, that clip furthers the (accurate) general narrative of Romney as overly concerned with corporate interests at the expense of ordinary people. This leads to Matt’s interesting comment:

A good way to understand what’s going on is to understand the longstanding liberal complaint that conservatives have a media and intellectual infrastructure entirely devoted to the cause of advancing conservative ideas and attacking those politicians and public figures who oppose conservative ideology. Liberals, on the other hand, have the mainstream media, which is largely composed of liberal-leaning individuals, but which is not entirely and solely dedicated to promoting the liberal political cause in the same way the interlocking web of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, publications, radio shows, and televisions stations are.

Think Progress’s continued flogging of one video clip of Mitt Romney saying “corporations are people, my friend” is exactly the type of thing liberals complain about when conservatives do it to liberals. The clip was plucked from CSPAN, aggressively promoted by Think Progress, reported on by mainstream outlets, turned into an ad for the DNC, and then, on Monday, promoted by Think Progress again in an effort to keep the controversy alive and, through repetition, make Mitt Romney seem like the “corporations are people, my friends” guy.

This is exactly right, and I confess that I’m ambivalent about it.

Some of my ambivalence reflects a certain nostalgia rooted in a unique moment. The 2008 Obama campaign was a sweet experience. A big reason for this sweetness was that Obama fought and won following a classy playbook. I and most others who helped had little interest in trashing Sarah Palin’s family or tracking rumored infidelities or the life challenges of a candidate’s wife. That wasn’t the vibe. Of course, it wasn’t all gauzy music videos. Every ad didn’t get a perfect score from Politifact. By and large, though, we could be really proud of what was won, and the way that we won it.

Of course, we were ahead and had the political and economic fundamentals in our favor. Bare-knuckle tactics and personal attacks were unnecessary and were contrary to Obama’s message and to his brand identity. We could feel morally superior to the McCain and the Clinton campaigns, They indeed fought dirtier, in part because they fought from behind over a long and difficult political season for them.

Taking that Romney clip and running with it is not political hackery. It’s the normal stuff of campaigning: the use of comments and film clips to present and reinforce a consistent narrative. It’s much less offensive than (say) Romney and Perry’s refrain about how we need a president who loves and understands America.

The next election will not be the same sweet experience as 2008. It will be a rough campaign against Republicans who have lots of corporate dollars, and the economic winds at their back. They have spent the last 39-some months trashing the president by any means necessary. As far as I can tell, Republicans pay very little political penalty for blatant dishonesty—or for dog-whistle rhetoric about how the president is less American, less white, less Christian, and thus less legitimate than they are. If we had better news media and a less-knuckleheaded electorate, the process would be more honest, less boring, and certainly less depressing to watch.

This election greatly matters to tens of millions of people who need jobs, help with their mortgages, health insurance coverage, a fiscally responsible progressive system to finance American government, and more.

This will be a bare-knuckle fight. We’ll have to be tough because winning is important. We’ll have to be true to ourselves, too, without creating our own mirror-image of the FOX-RNC propaganda apparatus. That’s not who we are.

There will be genuine dilemmas, ethical and practical. I’m not looking forward to this campaign, but there we are.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

10 thoughts on “Romney’s supposed gaffe and the “hack gap” between the parties”

  1. Which is to say “I” appreciate and agree … didn’t mean to be using an imperative!

  2. Obama fought and won following a classy playbook….We could feel morally superior to the McCain and the Clinton campaigns

    Yes, it was real classy and so morally superior for the Obama campaign to portray the Clintons as racists.

  3. if all people do is pay taxes then it might be true that “corporations are people” made perfect sense because the tax burden on corporations does fall on stakeholders. But of course the “corporations are people” line also has other applications. (a) right now corporations can spend an unlimited amount of cash on influencing elections (not all stakeholders get a say in this) (b) corporations don’t need to breath clean air or drink clean water(again not all stakeholders get a vote or say on this) indeed consuming the commons is a source of wealth to many corporations. (c) criminal activities are not uncommon (fraud, negligent death…) to corporations but activities that would lead to prison time (and inability to vote or influence elections) almost never do so to corporations and at most have momentary impact on profit (often deductible from taxes). Funny how “corporations are people” only seems to work to advantage of corporations relative to natural people.

  4. Liberals, on the other hand, have the mainstream media, which is largely composed of liberal-leaning individuals, but which is not entirely and solely dedicated to promoting the liberal political cause in the same way the interlocking web of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, publications, radio shows, and televisions stations are.

    This is exactly right…

    No, not this part. If you think that the mainstream media, regardless of the professed personal political alignment of some of the people in it, has any sort of tendency at all to promote the “liberal cause”, you haven’t been paying any attention. The liberals don’t in any sense “have it”. Not that I’d blame you for paying no attention to the mainstream media.

  5. I don’t think it is quite fair to call the electorate “knuckleheaded.” It is the mainstream media that is knuckleheaded and completely unable to hold a blatantly dishonest an lying politician’s feet to the fire. You can see this by simply surveying the how the media talks about politics and the types of questions regular people ask politicians at forums and such. The regular folks almost invariably discuss policy while the commentariat and the like largely focus on style and presentation. The conservative infrastructure is intentionally set up to game the media’s laziness and stupidity. Consequently, a trusting public is taken advantage of. While you may think the public’s trust that the media and their elected officials will tell them the truth is knuckleheaded, I don’t think we really want society to be more distrustful and fearful of strangers, at least liberals shouldn’t.

  6. I agree with SinFalta. The mainstream media, with its fondness for “he said, she said” journalism, doesn’t reliably take the liberal side even when conservatives are lying and liberals are telling the truth.

  7. micromeme: There’s a more fundamental issue here. With regards to the things you mention, corporations fail the basic tests of personhood. They are incapable of independent action, and they are not moral agents. Those should be the criteria for determining whether a class of entities1 qualify as persons.

    1Note that I say *class* of entities. I do not mean that we determine any individual entity’s claim to personhood by these criteria. As a class, human beings are capable of being moral agents. Thus, all humans are considered persons, without evaluating each one individually.

  8. Ways I’m not a corporation. 1) I am neither immortal in theory or in fact. 2) I’m pretty sure if I killed 11 people (BP oil rig explosion), I would face more than fines and lawsuits.

  9. “What Romney said is obviously true…”

    Well…there is the awkward point that a corporation is defined as a separate legal entity having its own privileges and liabilities distinct from those of its members. Things that are “separate” and “distinct” are not usually thought of as identical.

    And of course corporations are designed to shield “people” (here used in the sense of, you know, actual people) from legal liability.

    Other than that (and the points micromeme makes above), though, what Romney said is obviously true.

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