Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sunday June 10th, 2012
By Barrie Dunsmore

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is the most quoted (and often misquoted) adage of the Spanish born, American educated, late 19th- early 20th Century philosopher George Santayana. Some of us common scribes, who don’t normally toss off philosophical aphorisms in our columns, occasionally find this one irresistible in explaining current events in the context of history.

Still, one wonders what Santayana would make of today’s political debate in his adopted country, where a monumental case of amnesia has struck perhaps more than fifty percent of the people. These Americans evidently cannot remember major events that occurred just in the last decade. How else to explain consistent polling that shows former Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, in a dead heat or ahead of President Barack Obama.
I concede that the U.S. economy remains sluggish, and official unemployment now at 8.2 percent, is much too high. So if the Republicans and their new standard-bearer were offering the American people credible new alternatives, I would completely understand why the majority would want to give it a try.
But here’s where the amnesia has come into play- when those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What Mr. Romney and his party are offering are a series economic and foreign policies which differ from the last Republican administration, only to the extent that they may well prove to be worse. The previous Republican administration’s economic policies nearly brought down the entire capitalist system world wide. Its foreign policies resulted in two hugely expensive wars that seriously damaged America’s place in the world.
On the economic side, Romney has embraced the Republican House budget of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan’s plan calls for enormous cuts in government spending, ostensibly to reduce both the budget deficit and the national debt. Over a decade these cuts could amount to several trillion dollars. However Ryan also proposes to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts, to further reduce personal income taxes for the rich and to significantly cut corporate taxes. At the same time, Romney and Republicans are rejecting cuts in defense spending and want to actually increase the Pentagon’s budget.
So the only conceivable way trillions could be cut from government spending would come from drastically reduced Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits This is classic Republican trickle-down economics - on steroids - which from 2000 to 2008 totally failed to produce substantial job growth.
Mr. Romany also wants to do away with most Wall Street regulation. We know from last month’s fiasco at JPMorgan Chase - where several billion was lost in casino-style hedge fund betting - that the big time financial services bankers have learned nothing from the 2008 Stock Market crash. But rather than trying to fix the system that required billions in American taxpayer bailouts to stave off a global economic depression, Mr. Romney instead wants to repeal recent modest Wall Street reforms. (Key parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 remain to be implemented due to intense lobbying against them by the big banks led by JPMorgan.)
In the area of foreign policy we know Governor Romney is no expert. (Nor were presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) That said, the quality of the advisers among those who have the candidate’s ear, takes on greater importance.
James M. Lindsay is the director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He notes that Romney’s team, “seems to be tilted toward the neo-conservative wing of the foreign policy establishment.” And Christopher Preble, the vice president for defense and foreign policy at the libertarian Cato Institute says Romney’s list of foreign policy advisers troubles him. “I’ve not found a single person that’s advising Mitt Romney that has exhibited any doubts or second thoughts about the war in Iraq –whether that was a good idea- at a time when most Americans have come around to the point of view that it was a mistake.”
John Bolton, who was Bush II’s controversial U.N. Ambassador is one of the country’s leading neo-conservatives. While not on Romney’s payroll, he has publicly endorsed Romney and has made platform appearances with the candidate. As a strong advocate for the war in Iraq, Bolton would never admit that was a mistake. But perhaps what matters more these days is what he is saying about Iran. Bolton told Fox News, “the better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, is to attack Iran’s nuclear program directly.” And if Israel should attack Iran, Bolton says, “I don’t think it’s in our interest to stay out” of such a war. Romney himself has repeatedly expressed identical sentiments when he has casually endorsed what could become another major Mideast war as the way to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Romney has also been critical of President Obama for trying to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through international diplomacy, suggesting (as do the neo-cons) that this approach is a form of appeasement.
Romney spokesmen deny suggestions that his foreign policy brain trust is mostly neo-con. They point to the fact that former secretaries of state George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice have both recently endorsed Romney. True, but it is unlikely that having helped President Reagan end the Cold War, either one would agree with Romney’s highly provocative statement that Russia is America’s “Number 1 geopolitical foe.” That is vintage, cold warrior neo-con. And what distinguishes the neo-conservative hardliners is that from the Cold War to the Iraq War, they have a virtually perfect record for being dead wrong.
And so, on both the domestic and foreign fronts, what Mitt Romney is offering the American electorate is the chance to go back to the past – to return to policies that as recently as four years ago failed so spectacularly. As another philosopher, the nuclear scientist Albert Einstein put it, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results – is the definition of insanity.


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