Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt Romney and Individual Autonomy

Like most everyone else in the US, I have strong opinions about the upcoming election.

While I see plenty of room, usually, for honest disagreement on most policy issues, this election cycle has been particularly depressing for me.  The various clear-cut policy issues matter to me, and I feel, strongly that one of the general proposed plans of actions between the two parties is better than the other.   But I'm not about to touch anything substantive about that today.

Rather, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the moment I really began to see Mitt Romney not merely as a politician whose policies I disagree with, but a person whom I find terrifying to consider being in a position of power.

During the Republican primary process Mitt Romney began to battle his personality handicaps - whatever else one may say for or against him, he doesn't come off as a very warm, personal person in public.   Which isn't a fatal flaw to my mind, I don't particular care to choose my President based on whether I'd care to spend an evening with him at the bar.  But it is a factor with the public at large, and so he began rerunning an ad from a previous campaign that described one of the more human moments in his personal history - where he used his influence and resources to help an acquaintance find and be re-united with his missing teen aged daughter.

Here's a video of the ad, describing the situation and Mitt Romney's solution:

Based on what I've seen at various fact-check sites, this story has been presented in a fairly accurate manner. Before I go any further I feel I should make it clear, I do not criticize Mitt for wanting to help, nor for the goal of saving a 14 yo girl from a potentially horrible situation.  I am glad the girl was found, and re-united with her family.  For that matter, I'm not going to discuss the questions about the effectiveness or need for such help - that's all irrelevant to my gut reaction.

But the means of the help is horrifying to me.

First off, to be completely callous, 14 yo girls disappear every day in this nation.  What made this case different was that Mitt Romney had a personal connection to the family.  So, he felt the need to help out.  I'd be the first to say that it's normal, human and admirable to want to help people one has a personal connection to.  However, if you're running for the Presidency - I don't want to hear that your idea of helping people is to arrange a tiger team to look for one girl whom you happen to know personally.

Public policy shouldn't run on the same lines as private actions.  When talking public policy the problem wouldn't be "how can I help this individual girl?"  The question, or challenge, is:  "What is the root cause of this phenomenon, and can public policy be enacted to effect a change for the better?"  Actions focused upon an individual recipient are always going to be limited in their effect by the degree that that individual touches upon public life.

Secondly, the manner of the help that Mitt chose to offer is horrifying.  For a man who argues strenuously against public assistance programs for individuals, he had a shocking readiness to treat his employees at Bain as his minions without any autonomy of their own.  Read the transcript of the ad, again:  Bain was shut down, to free up the workforce for this quixotic campaign.  Even at the most benign, I have to assume that this became an unpaid vacation for the employees.  If there were the slightest pressure to make the effort to help this girl seem a mandatory requirement for the job things get even worse.

Hell, let's extend the fantasy even further:  assume that the employees were still receiving their salaries while they were schlepped off to NYC.  Travel, especially travel on short notice with no set return date, is a hardship for most people.  You have to arrange for people to watch your home, to take care of pets, or plants, mail has to be redirected - all those little details.  If you have a family it's even more disruptive.  Then there's the question of who was paying for the cost of living expenses while in NYC:  If it was being done on Bain's dime, well and good.  If it wasn't, if it didn't include a per diem for those little things that most of us buy every day without noticing, again - he imposed a financial hardship on his workers willi-nilli.

And all of this was in service of someone who, to be completely classist about things, had advantages that most of the workers at Bain never would and never will have.  In short, Mitt Romney treated his employees as if they were his minions, in the grand old pulp fiction evil mastermind model, existing to simply be automatons for his will - in the service of helping a personal friend.

If that's how he was willing to run his business, where to be honest, he has more incentive to keep his minions happy and feeling that their interests align with his - just how is he going to treat the great masses of people in the US as President?  Are we going to simply be more minions in the service of helping his friends?

Before you dismiss my concerns as class warfare, or hysterical scare-mongering, consider this:  We've already got one serious allegation of a company that was perfectly willing to tell its workers to take unpaid time off to go to a Mitt Romney political event.  Granted, this was at a Murray Energy subsidiary, and I start from the premise that Murray Energy is a blight upon the face of the Earth.  It wasn't something that Mitt set up, nor do I believe the candidate had any knowledge of what happened.  For that matter, I doubt that Murray, himself, knew either.  But the corporate attitudes are often simply a reflection of the attitudes of the higher ups, repeated and emulated by boot lickers going down the chain of command.

For that matter, the defense offered by the company spokesperson at the time is hilarious - if you're into Orwellian humor:  "Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore told Blomquist that the charges were untrue.
“There were no workers that were forced to attend the event,” Moore said. “We had managers that communicated to our work force that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event."  
Newspeak at its finest.  And individuals being treated as automatons in the service of their boss' whims. Not even on the clock - but off the clock.  

Still think I'm simply being hysterical?

ETA:  I"m aware of the letter sent to the Obama campaign claiming that the complaints about the rally are false.   I'm also sufficiently skeptical to think that a company that can say that something is "mandatory" without recognizing that this means "forced attendance" would see nothing wrong with pressuring its workers to lie to try to cover up their misdeeds.  

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