In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain tells a terrific anecdote about being elected union steward for the enormous restaurant at the Rockefeller Center as a young man in the 1970s. If "New York" and "1970s" was not a big enough hint, it turns out that the organization appeared to be mob-run. Bourdain is young, idealistic, and eager to raise some hell in the union, but meeting the union rep leads to his disillusionment as he realizes that his new job is of the do-nothing variety:
(The Union President) was oddly unenthusiastic. He looked up sleepily at me from behind the desk, as if I were a delivery boy bringing him a sandwich. When I asked him if I could, as shop steward, familiarize myself with The Contract, so that I might better serve our members, the president fiddled with his cufflinks and said, "I seem to have…temporarily…misplaced it." It was clear from his inflection and posture that he didn't give a fuck whether I believed him or not.
I've always loved that final line and I think of this anecdote, apocryphal or not, every time I find myself in this frustrating situation. This tone is frequently encountered when dealing with bureaucracies or one's superiors in the workplace. They don't care if you believe them because they don't have to.
This came to mind when I read Saturday's unusually frank New York Times editorial ("Mitt Romney's Confession") on the fact that the Romney/Ryan economic plan (or "plan") simply doesn't add up.
There are a couple of pitfalls here. The first is that while closing loopholes sounds good — Make those oil companies pay! — the costliest ones are cherished by most Americans. These are tax provisions that promote home ownership, charitable giving, and employer-provided health care and that allow taxpayers to deduct their state and local income taxes. Limiting or eliminating these popular "loopholes" would be extremely difficult.
The second obstacle, as shown by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, is that Mr. Romney's plan is mathematically impossible, even if it were politically feasible. Take away every deduction from every wealthy household, the center calculated, and you still couldn’t make up the revenue the government would lose by reducing rates without raising taxes on middle-class households.
Not so, Mr. Romney protested recently, and cited an analysis by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a Romney campaign adviser. Mr. Feldstein said the math could work — if you took away every deduction from every household earning $100,000 or more.
In other words, the math might work out (although this isn't even touching the effects of the proposed Estate Tax repeal) under a set of hypothetical circumstances that is totally unrealistic and not even what the campaign is proposing. No one, least of all Mitt Romney, has proposed eliminating every single tax deduction, including the home mortgage interest deduction. But maybe if that happened his tax cuts would begin to pay for themselves. Probably not, though. It's like they're giving us the rope and begging us to hang him.
This is not, as the Times suggests with its title, a "confession" by the Romney campaign. It is evidence that the GOP has moved far beyond giving two shits whether you believe their silly supply side economics or not. They simply do not care and they're not going to waste their time trying to provide some kind of evidence that supports their theory. Neither they nor the voters they attract are interested in even pretending like tax cuts pay for themselves – excepting a few rubes here and there who make $8/hr and think the Job Creators' wealth is going to trickle down. They just want the tax cuts, period.
It may seem like more of the same policy proposals from the GOP – more tax cuts, more magical faith that the economy will suddenly start growing faster than expected to make their lazy projections balance out – but Romney/Ryan marks an important change. This is 2012, the Year They Stopped Trying. The effort to make the math work is so feeble and so pitifully unconvincing that the jig is up. The candidates aren't even pretending that this works, and the supporters aren't even pretending that they believe it does. Just give us more money. Who cares what it costs the rest of you.
In my mind the whole "This pays for itself!" argument was never more than a weak conscience balm for wealthy beneficiaries of Republican fiscal policy. This is typical, and I think symptomatic, of the problems with the Romney campaign that their effort to sell their economic policy (during an election, during a recession) is so superficial, so half-assed, and so clearly a case of going through the motions. It's nice to see an admission, albeit a tacit, indirect one, that Reaganomics can finally be recognized for what it is: an ideology. A belief. An article of faith. And above all, it is a placeholder. They need some way to pass off massive upper class tax cuts as "fiscally responsible" and this fairy tale does about as well as any other.
This is a guy who spends every weekend at his vacation home in an election he's losing with 7 weeks to go. No one should be surprised that he barely put any effort into maintaining his party's Grand Illusion.