Offhand, the android heading the GOP ticket doesn’t look like a very poetic character. But Yeats wrote about him:
Who, were it proved he lies,
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes
If you think I’m being rude or exaggerating, consider this passage from the Stephanopoulos interview:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you dispute what President Clinton said and what the Democrats that say that youâ€™re going to have a $2,000 tax hike on middle-class families. I know you dispute that. You cite your own studies. But one of the studies you cite by Martin Feldstein at Harvard shows that to make your math work, it could work, if you eliminate the home mortgage, charity, and state and local tax deductions for everyone earning over $100,000. Is that what you propose?
MITT ROMNEY: No, thatâ€™s not what I propose. And, of course, part of my plan is to stimulate economic growth. The biggest source of getting the country to a balanced budget is not by raising taxes or by cutting spending. Itâ€™s by encouraging the growth of the economy. So my tax plan is to encourage investment in growth in America, more jobs, that means more people paying taxes. So thatâ€™s a big component of what allows us to get to a balanced budget.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But his study, which youâ€™ve cited, says it can only work if you take away those deductions for everyone earning more than $100,000.
MITT ROMNEY: Well, it doesnâ€™t necessarily show the same growth that weâ€™re anticipating. And I havenâ€™t seen his precise study. But I can tell you that we can lower our ratesâ€“
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you cited the study, though.
MITT ROMNEY: Well, I said that there are five different studies that point out that we can get to a balanced budget without raising taxes on middle income people.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is $100,000 middle income?
MITT ROMNEY: No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less. So number one, donâ€™t reduceâ€“ or excuse me, donâ€™t raise taxes on middle-income people, lower them. Number two, donâ€™t reduce the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest. The top 5% will still pay the same share of taxes they pay today. Thatâ€™s principle one, principle two. Principle three is create incentives for growth, make it easier for businesses to start and to add jobs. And finally, simplify the code, make it easier for people to pay their taxes than the way they have to now.
Of course, there aren’t “five different studies.” In fact, there are two fairly serious critiques of the original Tax Policy Center Study showing that Romney’s numbers didn’t add up, one by Martin Feldstein of Harvard and one by Harvey Rosen of Princeton, plus an op-ed by one of Romney’s advisers published by AEI and two editorials in the Wall Street Journal (no, seriously). And none of them says that you can cut the top tax rate and protect everyone below $200,000 from tax increases and come out revenue neutral, because of course you can’t. Feldstein’s central critique of the TPC study is that it assumed that everyone under $200k was to be held harmless, and that the math gets easier if the protected group only goes up to $100k.
But Romney, having defended his tax proposals with the claim that “I’ve got Princeton, Harvard, Wall Street Journal and AEI all saying actually that we can bring down the rates. And if we limit or eliminate some of the loopholes and deductions at the high end, we keep the current progressivity of the code and we get the same revenue coming into the government,” and being confronted with the fact that the “Harvard study” assumes policies different from the ones Romney proposes, is unabashed. He hasn’t read the Feldstein study, he says: the one he claimed supported his policies. And since he hasn’t read it, it doesn’t count.
Shamed in his own eyes? Not a bit of it. He just keeps smirking and babbling nonsense.
And how about the “neighbors”? Does Stephanopoulos recoil in horror, or take being lied to face-to-face as an affront? Does Marty Feldstein complain? Does any prominent Romney backer say, “Enough! I’m outta here”? No, Romney’s “neighbors” accept his mendacity as normal and natural.
The point of Yeat’s poem is that decent people are helpless in the face of such shamelessness: “How can you compete?” he asks his “honor bred” – and therefore vanquished – friend. Since Â competing with a Romney is impossible, his friend must “be secret and take defeat.”
If Barack Obama wins – and he’s now a 2:1 favorite on Intrade, and 4:1 in Nate Silver’s model – he (and Plouffe, and Axelrod, and three million small donors and hundreds of thousands of campaign volunteers) will have proven Yeats wrong. Instead of “turning away” and “taking defeat,” they fought back, relentlessly, skilfully, and mostly honorably.
My hat’s off to all of them. “For of all things known, this is most difficult.”