Monthly Archives: January 2012

GOP primary marred by gotcha politics

You expect gotcha politics these days, when sound bites are short and the public discourse often seems comprised of little more than shallow, opportunistic demagoguery. When we do hear something positive, it’s (all too often) positively platitudinous. Many have lamented such a state of affairs, and there are plenty of fingers to point.

What irks me today though is a particular brand of sniping as of late in the GOP presidential primary. Joining the likes of DNC press release writers and labor union bosses, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman have criticized Mitt Romney for his background as an executive and entrepreneur. In an attempt to gain traction in Iowa several weeks ago, Gingrich blasted Romney’s work at private equity firm Bain Capital. Since then he’s continued to make statements similar to this one:

“I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain that I would be glad to then listen to him.”  (LA Times, Dec. 12, 2011)

This morning in New Hampshire, Romney said he would like to see individuals have their own health insurance and be able to fire their insurers (in favor of another carrier) at will. That’s what any sensible listener would have taken from his statement. Gingrich, Huntsman, the DNC and others pounced however, lampooning the Iowa caucus winner for wanting to “fire people.” Rick Santorum and Rick Perry have also attacked Romney’s professional background.

Barack Obama and Democrats will attack Romney for being a successful executive who was involved in the breaking down and building up of commercial enterprises (as I understand it). It’s untoward to watch Republicans do the same. Conservatives should voice their displeasure with this kind of anti-capitalist rhetoric, and put its practitioners on the defensive.

Republicans should not forfeit the debate over capitalism and freedom in this country. Unfortunately, in their quest for personal political gain, some of Romney’s rivals push the party that direction with their choice of language. It’s not just the attacks, either. It’s also the ridiculous proposition that private investment is solely for “job-creation,” and that creating employment opportunities for others, in and of itself, is the only morally legitimate function of business enterprise.

That is the natural and  desirable outcome in many cases, but it is not the first purpose of the innovator or investor in most cases. In fact, innovation may mean a single worker can do more with less – a productivity gain. That same progress means other workers who were once needed for one one task might move on to another, with jobs being lost – and regained – in the process. Or, maybe some jobs are lost, but a leaner and more efficient operation reduces costs for the consumer.

Romney’s record – as a public figure and private professional – is fair game, just as the record of every other candidate is fair game. But questions and criticisms should not be skewed by anti-private, anti-profit bias. If Romney behaved unethically or illegally, bring that to the fore. If not, desist with the obscene charges and absurd insinuations. They should be taken unkindly by us all.

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Is mayoral takeover undemocratic?

E. Thomas McClanahan of the The Kansas City Star writes that the mayor’s plan to take over the city’s troubled school district is a non-starter. While I often agree with this columnist, he fails to explain why mayoral control of the district is less desirable than any of the current alternative scenarios. KC may have a weak mayor’s office by design, but has relative independence of the school board done anything for public education in the city?

Mayoral takeover is not a panacea. But the immediate practical alternatives would seem to be either state takeover or some continuation of the dismal status quo. To McClanahan and others who oppose a local takeover (perhaps State Senator Victor Callahan, etc.), what is your solution that will work better?

In school turn-around efforts nationally, mayoral control of city school districts has picked up steam in recent years. For communities mired in civic squabbles for decades, the idea of a strongman who can make decisions at will can seem attractive. It’s less democratic as McClanahan points out, but particularly at the local level, isn’t there still room for republican rather than participatory governance?

Kansas City schools need a major shakeup, and it’s hard to see how anything but a major solution can provide that. Again, I’m not saying mayoral takeover is ideal, but until another (politically feasible) answer presents itself, I don’t know what the city has to lose. 

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