Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nowhere Man

Matt Taibbi has written a fascinating, detailed and incredibly enlightening cover story in the new Rolling Stone on Mitt Romney's financial background and what it says about him and the way he thinks. The facts and figures it dispenses, as well as the way it shows how the anti-debt Romney has spent much of his career profiting off the debt of others, is required reading. But it's the way he wraps up the extended piece that really grabbed my attention.

"Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what's missing. This is a man who grew up in Michigan, went to college in California, walked door to door through the streets of southern France as a missionary and was a governor of Massachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side of Edinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney's diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.

Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.

Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here in America but all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political clich├ęs are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.

That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.

Mitt Romney isn't blue or red. He's an archipelago man. That's a big reason that voters have been slow to warm up to him. From LBJ to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, Americans like their politicians to sound like they're from somewhere, to be human symbols of our love affair with small towns, the girl next door, the little pink houses of Mellencamp myth. Most of those mythical American towns grew up around factories – think chocolate bars from Hershey, baseball bats from Louisville, cereals from Battle Creek. Deep down, what scares voters in both parties the most is the thought that these unique and vital places are vanishing or eroding – overrun by immigrants or the forces of globalism or both, with giant Walmarts descending like spaceships to replace the corner grocer, the family barber and the local hardware store, and 1,000 cable channels replacing the school dance and the gossip at the local diner.

Obama ran on "change" in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It's a vision of society that's crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it's running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender."

I've said before, on more than one occasion, that the important thing to keep in mind when you hear discussions on the right of the need for unrestricted capitalism is that the modern free-market is in fact the least patriotic entity on the planet. It exists merely in the service of itself and those who worship it with relentless abandon, forsaking all other considerations, as Taibbi says, don't really give a damn about America. That's because this new brand of flat-Earth free-market capitalism doesn't recognize nations or states and therefore the people who serve it have no allegiance to any one country nor do they revel, as they used to, in ensuring that the homeland which ostensibly provided them with so much reaps a rewarded for its cultural and legal largess. They've almost literally created their own world.


Riles said...

That is just outstanding, and eye-opening.

Not everyone picks up accents from where they live, but it seems almost a conscious choice on Mitt's part not to. Or if anything, his brain-piece picked up on the rare nerdy-Mormon-rich-man dialect.

The larger issue, having no allegiance to a nation, is truly scary. I think being able to shelter your income was historically considered a smart move, but with the assumption that most of your money was staying in the country. These offshore accounts really are hurting the country now, and I think public opinion needs to turn a bit to reflect that pain.

sommer said...

Well that was terrifying. I'm gonna go smoke a cigarette now.

Mart said...

The "We built this party" has nominated a man whose fortune is built on a business model built on tax code changes. They used these changes to pocket profits while under huge debt, sinking many companies (and jobs) along the way to the Swiss Bank. Whether at Baine, the Olympics, or as a politician - the only thing Willard is good at is collecting rich people and government money.

Alex Wiesner said...

Hi Chez,

I think Arthur Jensen in Network said it best already in 1976:

"You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today!

There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime."

Scary stuff.

Chez said...

"You have meddled with the primal forces of nature... And YOU WILL ATONE!"

bafreeman said...

I moved steadily east as a kid, starting in California and ending up in Connecticut about 25 miles from NYC, with several stops along the way. I went back to CA for college and now I live in the south. I don't generally have an identifiable accent, but I CAN, and when I'm around people from any of the places I find that, to a degree, I DO. After enough hours with someone from St. Louis, for example, and words like "well" and "sure" grow an extra syllable. Enough time talking with the natives here in Charlotte and I'll drop into a drawl that's actually rooted in the California farm country where my family has lived for generations. Because I've actually been a part of the places I've lived.

Anonymous said...

How about this for a bumper sticker: Romney's photo along with this Wikipedia quote:

LBO may refer to:
Leveraged buyout
large bowel obstruction

Matt said...

I feel like I'm seeing the stage being set for a society like Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash.

Riles said...

@bafreeman - I hear you. My dad is from Australia, and I grew up just this side of the US border in Chula Vista. When I moved to Los Angeles some people used to ask if I had an accent, and that's just in a city two hours up the freeway.

It's quite odd that Romney has picked up nothing from where he's been.

Anonymous said...

Didn't anyone pick up that this extra-national ruling class was solidifying when Dubai (a slave labor built police city-state in the near east just for them) was built?

ZIRGAR said...

Something else Taibbi may be referring to is that Romney doesn't just lack a dialect, but he also lacks any of the colloquialisms or regional phrases, or expressions from any of the areas he's lived. He's passed through all those places like a kernel of corn through a GI tract.