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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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Mitt Romney Flip-Flops His Way to the Top


Mitt Romney will be the Republican to face President Obama in the fall. Tuesday night was the clincher, as the former Massachusetts governor won in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington D.C. He may stumble on, but the Catholic zealot Rick Santorum is finished, wiped out by Romney's vast financial resources.

Eight years ago, Romney began his bid to win the Republican nomination, only to be crushed by John McCain. In that campaign, he was tagged as a crypto-liberal former governor of Massachusetts and author of a health plan derided by Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

Week after tedious week in his second bid, Romney has had to stab his own plan in the back, lashed by his Republican opponents as the true originator of "Obamacare," now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever tincture of liberalism he might once have exhibited has long since vanished. His conservatism is of a harshness way beyond the positions of the last Republican challenger to a Democratic president, Bob Dole, who was thrashed by Bill Clinton in 1996.

Romney's opportunism in junking previous positions when under conservative pressure has been unremitting. Take the single biggest issue in American politics today, the minimum wage.

If you adjust for inflation, median personal income in America hasn't moved for almost half a century. Nearly a quarter of U.S. households have zero to negative net worth. It just takes one unlucky turn of the cards — an illness, an accident, a brush with the law — to put them under.

In 2005, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott called on Congress to raise the minimum wage, since "our customers simply don't have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks." The boss of the largest corporation on the planet, which employs 1.3 million Americans and has 850,000 customers in its stores at any given moment, was identifying what was then and is now America's No. 1 problem: A huge chunk of the population barely survives on starvation wages.

Even though the cost of living has gone up, the federal minimum wage hasn't moved since 2009, when the last of a series of increases signed into law by George W. Bush kicked in. In 2011 dollars, the minimum wage was more than $10 in 1968, when jobs and pay were peaking for America's workers.

The current minimum wage ranges between $7.25 and $8.67 per hour. Work a 40-hour week for $7.25 and you end up with $15,080 a year, just above the $11,000 federal poverty line for an individual but well below the $22,000 for a family of four. In 1914, the year Henry Ford doubled the pay of his workers at Highland Park to $5 a day, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months' pay. The price, $15,080, is just a bit more than the manufacturer's recommended retail price for the Ford Fiesta ($13,200), Ford's cheapest car this year.

In November 2008, President-elect Obama promised to "raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011 and index it to inflation to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation and housing, things so many people take for granted." It was a pledge to low-paid workers to give them a 30 percent pay hike.

Of all Obama's betrayals, this was one of the most bitter. He never really tried, skittish with fear that he'd be nailed by the big business lobbies and their creatures in Congress as an inflationeer.

If ever there was an issue on which Romney could get real traction with the blue-collar voters who liked Santorum, it's the minimum wage. As Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative put it: "these days a crucial component of the Republican electorate consists of working-class whites, often strongly religious ones, who tend to live in non-unionized low-wage states or otherwise generally subsist, sometimes with considerable difficulty, on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Proposing a large wage increase to a socially conservative evangelical Christian who works at Wal-Mart and currently struggles to pay her bills would be the sort of simple, clear message that might easily cut through an enormous amount of ideological clutter."

Romney was perfectly positioned. In January of this year, he said at a campaign event in New Hampshire that he favored raising the minimum wage automatically each year to keep pace with inflation. He could have built on this, just as Reagan did in his 1980 campaign with entirely factitious economic populism. But no. A couple of whacks from The Wall Street Journal and fears of being pilloried as a liberal saw Romney flop on the issue at the start of March. Now he wants the wage to stay at $7.25, with no indexing for inflation. In other words, he wants poor people to earn less every year.

In his first bid for the nomination in 2008, Romney's foreign policy positions were relatively demure. This time he's swerved into Paleolithic Cold War conservatism, rivaling McCain's in 2008. Near the end of March, he was bellowing that, "Russia is America's No. 1 geopolitical foe." He wants to keep troops in Afghanistan and bomb Iran — this last one a predictable bow to the Israel lobby.

In February, president Obama trailed Romney in the top 12 swing states, 46 to 48 percent. Yesterday a USA Today/Gallup poll reported that in these same swing states a majority of registered voters now favor Obama by 9 points. According to the USA Today/Gallup pollsters, the biggest change came from women younger than 50, where the president now leads Romney by 2 to 1. Not long before the poll was taken, Romney, fending of attacks from Santorum, said he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood and endorsed the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny coverage of contraception on religious grounds.

Romney has beaten off all challengers, but now he sports all their most unalluring features. The Obama camp is not unhappy.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



13 Comments | Post Comment
This guy is always so cynical of everyone. Thats why I like him. I would support the position that the minimun wage should be hiked up according to inflation every year. I am against raising the minimum wage to $9.50 right away. It could cause some negative economic consequences. But I also think some jobs do not warrent that much money. I remember my first job in high school and I never would have thought I deserved anywhere close to $9.50 for flipping burgers.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Apr 6, 2012 9:34 AM
Re: Chris McCoy. The issue is what the minimum wage was back then. How much was it? As one who appreciates a good burger, I'm not sure your work wasn't worth it if you did a good job.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Fri Apr 6, 2012 9:21 PM
The minimum wage should be replaced by a living wage, or what's the point of working at a job if you can't live on it? Please don't talk about such wages being inflationary, as wages are a minor part of the price we pay for things. For instance, those sports shoes made in Asia and shipped here that sell for upwards of $80, cost $9 to both make and ship. If the CEO of WalMart feels so strongly, why doesn't he just act accordingly?

This fall, the two dominanat parties will field candidates whose core beliefs are practically nil, with Romney slightly edging out Obama in the falseness category. Obama still manages to fool many liberals as he campaigns as one of them, while governing as a corporatist rightwinger.

Enter the polling booth at your peril.

Comment: #3
Posted by: michael nola
Sat Apr 7, 2012 8:24 AM
Mr. McCoy, when burgers were 12 and 18 cents as I remember, then one wouldn't expect 9.50 hrly. Burgers, fast food, and sit down eateries have raised prices to meet inflation and increase profit. If "trickle down economics" actually worked, wages would have increased exponentially with profit, one can't be sure, but can surmise it would be a living wage.

Mr. Nola, your argument makes perfect sense to me and your first sentence sums up the perils faced by our society today. As we know, keeping the minimum wage below a living wage, every able bodied adult in a family must work. Where are the jobs? A parent no longer has the luxury of raising their own children because just to meet basic needs on minimum wage, both must work.Where are the jobs? The very sad news is that we have an over qualified workforce getting minimum wage simply because their jobs became redundant or the market is so glutted with job seekers they took what they could till jobs come back. Very quickly, our economy and minimum wage almost ensure there will be very few able to sustain the basic necessities of life on one paycheck. What's a single person or a household where only one is employed to do if Rent, Utilities, and Food quickly reduce discretionary or disposable income to zero. Where does the money come from to pay for transportation to and from work? Or incidentals such as soap, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, clothing, or the most basic of luxuries, a telephone?
As a part time volunteer with an org. that services impoverished families, it is notable their shops of choice are thrift shops, $$ stores, and Walmart in that order.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Steve
Sun Apr 8, 2012 10:45 AM
Masako the min wage at the time was $5.50 and I was making $6. I was happy with it. I bought a junkie car, had enough money for gas and trips to the movies with friends. I was content. I didn't think the world owed me anything. Now I do more skilled work and make a living wage. It has to be earned, not given. I think we first need to change the mindset of the American people before we can get the country back on the right course. Its all about personal responsibility, a lost concept that needs to be brought back.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sun Apr 8, 2012 10:52 AM
Mr. McCoy, consider what you're saying. You recite the verbal weapons of conservative mantra, but I question the direction you're pointing your weapons.
"Now I do more skilled work and make a living wage. It has to be earned, not given."
You earn a living wage off the backs of those who came before you who demanded a living wage and safe working conditions. It was not offered by the owner reaping profits and paying slave wages, it was reluctantly given after much labor upheaval and brought about by the blood and sacrifice of those who dared challenge the status quo.
"I think we first need to change the mindset of the American people before we can get the country back on the right course."
The mindset of the American people is fine. The mindset that needs to change is that of the businesses and corporations who share their profits only within their tight inner circle while continuing to ensure the majority of Americans receive as little as possible as long as possible. They give a little, we give a lot and they like it that way.
At the same time they are reducing wages, salaries, and jobs of their working force, they are receiving massive tax breaks and subsidies, and paying the godfathers of their organizations obscene bonuses and stock options.
"Its all about personal responsibility, a lost concept that needs to be brought back."
A conservative mantra that makes my strong stomach sick. Mr. McCoy the thieves that brought about the demise of our economy and our country did not then or now "take personal responsibility" for their actions. Instead with their veneer of respectability still in place, they dare lecture you, me, all of us on the virtues of personal responsibility, we who are suffering the cost from their lack of personal responsibility and integrity. What's worse, they use you to parrot it to me.
The only personal responsibility I have is to identify friend from foe, truth from a lie, and recognize a winning hand from a bluff. If you can master any of all of the above, the foe is easier to recognize and hopefully, those mantras people sling at one another will find a more worthy target.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Steve
Mon Apr 9, 2012 1:38 PM
So what do you suggest Steve, that I go around with the mindset that the world owes me something? That if I don't get all I want out of life, its someone elses fault. You can keep that way of thinking. I make $30,000 a year and am richer than 85% of the world. I have no doubt that some corperations are corrupt to the bone, but like you said, those people cannot be held accountable. You talk about the conservative mantra, but how about the liberal mantra: you have more than me, gimme gimme. I'll take being grateful for what I have in this life.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Tue Apr 10, 2012 9:15 AM
Re: Chris McCoy. Chris, there are many "liberals" who share your frustration with the Democratic Party and its representatives. You sound more and more like an "independent," which in my mind is the only sane way one can classify himself/herself these days. In fact, I think this country is basically leaderless these days.

Just don't follow the temptation to hate your humble roots or those who have less power. It's tempting, because one can easily follow the path of blame to write them, and the lesser beings we ourselves were before we found some success, off.

I want to tell you a little story. When I was a young and idealistic college kid, I organized tenants in a New Jersey ghetto to get slumlords to fix up their, well, slums. I was astounded to find a subculture of Puerto Ricans living in the most abject poverty I have ever seen, in basements and shacks that would make Tokyo efficiency apartments look like mansions, even to this day.

The thing that got me is that they didn't even know HOW to apply for welfare or food stamps, let alone consider doing it. Actually, one thing got me more. I knocked on a lot of doors. I couldn't do too many in a day when it was one of their doors I knocked on, because they wanted me to come in, spend time with them, and share cafe con leche and have a little bite to eat of their meager fare.

What I got from that experience, which has been validated over the many years since then (we are talking about 60) is that the poorer people are in general, the more generous they seem to be.
Most of the poor are silent. They are willing to die quietly without protest. Those and their advocates you see and hear squawking are only a tiny tip of the iceberg.

There is a system of Apartheid in this country and it is growing. It may not be based on color, but it is there, just the same--perhaps less discernable because it isn't really color based.

Animals are treated much worse. In my old age, for some reason, I care even more about them, because they have no chance of getting it and moving out of their situation. Dogs, cats, and all kinds of other animals we have essentially brought into this world are abandoned, especially in hard economic times, and they get put down or neglected to death every day.

I believe in Christ as only one of many messengers of God, who has spoken to every culture on this planet. His universal (okay maybe HER) message in every single incarnation has been to shelter the needy, the sick, the poor, and all of those less fortunate than we who have the power to do that, and to treasure the riches of nature we find on this planet only because of God's generosity. We should all be thankful, and I greatly appreciate the fact that you have mentioned your thankfulness in your writing.

These right-wing phonies who invoke the name of God and Christ to support their agendas of hatred and utter absence of humanity are unworthy of support by a soul like you. The wonderful liberals aren't all that much better either, in many cases, I must admit. Which is worse, a known enemy or a false friend?

I agree to some extent with Steve, whose proposition is that Obama is the lesser of evils we are offered to choose as a national leader, but I guess I am coming to the conclusion that while the choice of president matters, it matters less than the media hype and our own fantasies lead us to believe.

I will vote for Obama, because I dare not, but I am not expecting his election to produce a whole lot of change unless we the people martial the will and force we are capable of creating to make him, or whoever gets elected, as well as the rest of the system, deliver something resembling civilized solutions to our mounting problems.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Masako
Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:15 PM
Masako, though I disagree that the choice of president matters less today, from my view it matters more than ever due to the capture of the Republican party by extremists and all but Ron Paul signed extremist pledges. In today's fragile economy and middle east instability, it matters more than ever to me whoever holds elected office will not sink our ship at home and have the finesse to deal with foreign affairs. Most everyone on this forum agrees Obama has disappointed in many ways, and a worthy Republican candidate would have been welcomed by many of us. Unfortunately that has not happened.
Your comments were also very humbling and touching. Your last paragraph expresses the reasons I began commenting on this forum. Reading and sharing opposing views, finding common ground, reminding and remembering that in spite of sometimes heated rhetoric we all want what's best for our country and each other.
Mr. McCoy my comments to you were not meant to discredit or attack, only for consideration of another viewpoint.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Steve
Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:14 AM
Steve compared so some of the angry and bitter comments people on this site say sometimes, you comments were a teddy bear. And thats a good thing. I like to keep things civil. I understand what you guys are saying, but I still don't think that self-reliance is a conservative mantra. Masako is right, I'm not a conservative. I'm more in the Ron Paul camp than anything else. And I do believe in helping people out in their time of need, I just don't trust government to do it. Think about it. What government programs today aren't bankrupt, corrupt, and inefficiant? I'd rather have lower taxes, less government spending, and free up more of peoples money to go to local charites and churches to help people. I believe those types of organizations are better stewardsof our money than Washington. Plus, I want God to get the credit for helping people, not government.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:50 AM
Dear Chris:. We can agree to disagree with respect. I believe God helps governments who help themselves. Yes, many of our government anti-poverty programs suck, just as do our government programs that are supposed to protect the environment or attend to any other matter that our wise business leaders or we the people just can't seem to step up to.

Government got us sanitation, roads, bridges, sewers, all of the skeletal framework of civilization without which society and business would not have had the habitat they needed to support their great achievements. What government does is unexciting at best. Think about it, if you buy a house and rebuild it, as I did once, who really chatters about the foundation replacement, the new three quarter or one-inch copper entry plumbing, the rebuilt cripple wall? It's the fancy remodeled kitchen and bath, maybe the new windows, or perhaps the brightly colored redone stucco that everyone goes oooh and ahhh over.

We are going oooh and ahhh now over the latest iteration of the Apple Ipad, but how could that have come to the market without the infrastructure whose creation and maintenance was guaranteed by the government? That's the boring thing the government has to do because the collective will of our society has not been able to find any other dependable way to keep all the dogs pulling the sled on a single harness.

And those businesses are like our worst images of dogs and wolves. Let them loose and they will tear up everything around them and then each other. (In fact, I don't mean to insult dogs--I see a lot of members of species homo sapiens who are much worse. The Buddha thought dogs are holy, and I tend to agree.)

Look around the world. What great country or association of our species has found a better way over the entire course of our history, even since the great coming of Christ?

You sink or swim with government, my friend. It is our task to make government work. If we fail, we are toast, and the hour grows late.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Masako
Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:21 PM
Masako you have a point. We do need infulstructure. In fact I work the the state government in the DOT. Government does provide many essential functions, but I think most of those functions should take place on a state level. We are all one nation but each state has different values. Thats why I advocate very small federal government. Because their one size fits all solutions often don't work. An anti-gun law might go over well in California, but would be shunned in Montana. Thats just one example, but I'm sure you get my point.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:46 AM
Masako is correct. In fact that is the constitutional way of government. State level or local level. Most of what the federal government does is not mentioned in the constitution. In fact the 10th amendment says if it is not mentioned then it will not perform those activities. It only took one wrong headed judge long ago to streeech the comerce clause way out of proportion. Mind you states rights do not out way individual rights like the right to bear arms or equal protection under the law. Also, if states got back their power then we would soon find out what works best and what does not work because people also fvote with their feet.For example the minumum wage. If states set their own minumum wage it would be a gage weather higher or lower is better by looking at the effect of the increase or decrease. Monopolies dont work in business so why do we thin it works in government.
Comment: #13
Posted by: SCOTT
Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:46 AM
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