Romney Rivals Discover Compassion

01/10/2012 10:30 am EST


Igor Greenwald

Chief Investment Strategist, MLP Profits

Opponents of the Republican frontrunner are slamming him with rhetoric borrowed from Occupy Wall Street, writes senior editor Igor Greenwald.

The presidential carnival’s about to head south, as the New Hampshire primary sends winners and losers alike scurrying for votes below the Mason-Dixon.

The junior varsity debating club competing for the affections of Republicans has already tackled gay marriage, contraception, and herpes vaccinations. Now it’s down to the pocketbook issues presumed to be of more practical interest to voters, even the cranks with a rooting interest in this midget toss.

In the good old days, we’d be debating whose gimmicky tax cut scheme was the costliest and most simple-minded. Or maybe who was most scandalized by the latest liberal outrage.

But these aren’t the good old days. The tax cuts added to the tab a decade ago are about to expire, unless both parties make a heroic effort to ignore the tab rather than blaming each other for its extent.

Moreover, the candidate who briefly made “9-9-9” such a buzzword has groped his way to the sidelines, while another who aimed to downsize tax returns has seen his poll numbers shrink to the brink of irrelevance instead, after forgetting which government departments he would gut. So it’s Bush tax cuts or nothing on the tax front, and nothing is not going to win this race.

As for social issues, most Republicans have reluctantly concluded that gays are people too and should even be able to visit each other in the hospital without posing a direct threat to Western civilization. And abortion is for the states to ban, of course. But it’s tough to get the faithful riled about the choices made by others when they are down to so few of their own.

And so instead of glorying in the bounty and blessings of free enterprise, Republicans are arguing about how wrong it is to fire people. And, as a corollary, who’s more out of touch: the frontrunner who used to do that for a living, or the “middle-class person” with the $500,000 credit line at Tiffany’s (TIF)?

The person in question—one Newt Gingrich—has just bought, through ostensibly independent allies of his campaign, an attack film pillorying Mitt Romney, the former Bain Capital CEO, for laying off workers at companies bought by the private equity firm.

“Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to get millions in profits. Nothing spared. Nothing mattered but greed,” the narrator intones, to the images of a man blowing cigar smoke and a suitcase stuffed with $100 bills.

The delicious bit of irony is that this bit of socialist propaganda will be disseminated widely in South Carolina and beyond on the dime of conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands (LVS) casino mogul who’s just given $5 million to the independent Political Action Committee supporting Gingrich.

Not that the former House speaker is the lone closet Marxist in the GOP fold. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman launched similar attacks on Romney yesterday.

Free enterprise, it seems, is great only until it costs people their livelihoods. After that it becomes looting, raiding, and downright un-American, at least for the duration of the campaign—after which the looters and the raiders will of course be entitled to pay the reduced capital-gains rate on much of their income.

Republicans had better be careful. As is, they’re conceding that workers deserve a measure of stability, a degree of protection from the whims of the marketplace. A few more months of such heresy, and they might even conclude that government should intervene from time to time to avert undesirable economic outcomes.

Next thing you know, Adelson will be endorsing Barack Obama for saving the US auto industry, and praising the Fed for printing so many dollars for his Chinese customers to leave behind at Sands casinos in Macau.

Bad enough that Rick Perry’s running around declaiming that “getting rich off failure and sticking someone else with the bill is indefensible.” Because that’s the current profit cycle in a nutshell, as corporations steamroll the last few mom-and-pop rivals and stick government with the inevitable bill for the jobless benefits and food stamps.

What if Romney, pandering to Midwest voters, flip-flops once more and backs the auto bailout he opposed three years ago? After all, it’s been nothing like the disaster Romney prophesied at the time.

Chrysler, a success story under Fiat’s management, has repaid the bulk of the government aid with interest, and is getting ready to add more than a thousand jobs in Michigan next year. Even General Motors (GM) is making headway as a drastically leaner company. And while the government is still on the hook for some of its aid, it’s off the hook for the economic fallout from an additional million or so workers who would have hit the dole without its intervention.

Don’t expect the party of self-styled job creators to abandon dogma so readily, even in an election year. But at least the debate has begun.

Even Republicans, it seems, don’t wish to live and die by the bottom line. At least until the votes have been counted.

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