W.B. Yeats on W.M. Romney

“One who, were it proved he lies, were neither shamed in his own, nor in his neighbors’, eyes.”

Offhand, the android heading the GOP ticket doesn’t look like a very poetic character. But Yeats wrote about him:

… one
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 you’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, that’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. It’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 that’s a big component of what allows us to get to a balanced budget.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But his study, which you’ve cited, says it can only work if you take away those deductions for everyone earning more than $100,000.
MITT ROMNEY: Well, it doesn’t necessarily show the same growth that we’re anticipating. And I haven’t seen his precise study. But I can tell you that we can lower our rates–
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, don’t reduce– or excuse me, don’t raise taxes on middle-income people, lower them. Number two, don’t reduce the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest. The top 5% will still pay the same share of taxes they pay today. That’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  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.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “W.B. Yeats on W.M. Romney”

  1. Funny you should mention Yeats. A few weeks ago there was a thread about Obama’s basic conservatism in the tradition of Oakeshott, manifested in the caution with which he approaches and implements change. A letter which he wrote to a girlfriend in his 20s shows some remarkable things about him. We all do the damndest things as young men to impress the young ladies in whom we are interested, but the kinds of things we choose to do in order to make these impressions says a lot about us, and Barack Obama showing off his knowledge about Yeats and Pound and Eliot says a lot about the kind of young man he was.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/06/young-barack-obama-in-love-david-maraniss has this passage from the letter:

    “Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism — Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.)”

    Pound’s support of fascism is well known because he was loud about it and lived long enough to be loud about it during wartime. Yeats had a weaker association with Mussolini’s fascism. The young Obama was being generous to Eliot whose hostile attitude toward Jews was woven into his character and world view. But Obama’s sympathy with a certain kind of conservatism seems to have carried over into his presidency. No doubt Dinesh D’Souza can find an anti-colonial hostility to Western Civilization on Obama’s comments about Eliot, but Karl Rove has yet to exploit this passage for political advantage.

      1. For more of that Obama “letter to a girlfriend” kind of information, read David Maraniss’s book, BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY. Reading that book makes me think if Obama gets a second term, we are going to see what a transformational presidency looks like.

  2. Since most voters don’t have a clue and couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag, mendacity, duplicity and stupidity have never extracted much cost in the electoral arena. Some voters hear “I will lower your taxes” and that’s all they care about. Some hear “I will never apologize for America” and that’s the chest thumping that seals their allegiance. Some hear “I will cut off the bloodsuckers and leaches” and that play to their racial animosity is enough.

    Reasoned argumentation and rationality? That influences maybe 1% of the voters. (That might be generous.)

  3. One of my favorite Yeats poems. Wow, that guy could write. AND RHYME. So here I paste in a short little gem.

    TOIL and grow rich,
    What’s that but to lie
    With a foul witch
    And after, drained dry,
    To be brought
    To the chamber where
    Lies one long sought
    With despair.

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