Obama And Romney: What’s The Diff?

The Article: Two friends of the 1 percent in The Socialist Worker.

The Text: “MITT ROMNEY made over $100 million by shutting down our plant and devastated our lives.”

Those words, from a worker at a factory taken over and closed down by Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital, captured the Republican presidential candidate perfectly–an out-of-touch Wall Street parasite who made a fortune in the corporate takeover business, who’s so filthy rich that he’s scared to release his tax returns, who attends $75,000-per-couple fundraising dinners at the home of billionaire union-hater David Koch.

It’s no surprise that the comment was featured in pro-Obama campaign ads which ran in swing states last week–and which portrayed the president, by contrast, as a determined fighter for ordinary Americans, intent on stopping tax breaks for the wealthy and protecting working-class jobs.

There’s no doubt that Romney is every bit the repulsive job-killer the ad portrays him to be. But Barack Obama isn’t a determined fighter for working-class people in the U.S.–and it’s important for everyone who cares about the struggle for the 99 percent to understand why.

Obama and the Democrats may be talking about how bad Romney is for workers right now, but the last four years have been the Democrats’ turn to cozy up to Corporate America and push through many of the same anti-worker policies that the Republicans support.

From failing to keep their promise to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich to spearheading an assault on public-sector unions, the Obama administration has dashed the expectations of millions who supported it in 2008–all in the service of the bankers and bosses of Corporate America.

So if the Obama campaign wants to draw attention to the war on workers in the U.S., it’s a good opportunity to talk about that war–and which side the Democrats are actually on.

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DEMOCRATS HAVE seized the opportunity to hammer away at Romney’s refusal to give up his tax information.

“My research suggests Mitt Romney is the first presidential candidate in American history with a Swiss bank account,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a rousing floor speech last week. “We shouldn’t have a political system where a candidate can claim to champion working people, while that same person is secretly betting against America through tax avoidance and tax haven abuse.”

Of course, tax avoidance is old hat to Romney, who founded Bain and remained its CEO, president, chairman of the board and only stockholder until 2002. Among other scams, Bain specialized in creating offshore sub-companies in the Cayman Islands to help foreign investors avoid paying taxes on investments in the U.S. Or as Romney described it to the National Review, “[O]ur business was able to invest in other people’s dreams, many of which were successful.”

The Obama campaign has plenty of evidence to back up its claims that Romney will serve the interests of the very rich. But Obama’s own record during his time as president shows the same priorities.

The administration’s rhetoric has sometimes been fierce and confrontational–and sometimes not–but its actions have always been muted and ineffectual. After passing one major economic stimulus bill one month into his term–which economists feared was too small and overly weighted toward corporate tax cuts–Obama never managed another significant piece of legislation to establish a jobs program, even when the Democrats had an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress.

Promises to pass regulations curbing the Wall Street casino turned into financial “reforms” that let the banks off the hook. Meanwhile, the administration has come down hard on workers every step of the way, including a multi-year wage freeze on federal workers in the name of deficit reduction and a bailout of the auto industry that required huge new concessions from the United Auto Workers.

This has been the record of the Obama administration: The bailed-out banksters are back to enjoying record bonuses–while autoworkers’ wages and benefits were permanently slashed. And if Democrats are pointing the finger at Romney as the job killer from Bain, they have nothing to say about the layoffs pushed through at General Motors and Chrysler in exchange for the auto bailout.

All along the way, the Obama administration used the rhetoric of “shared sacrifice” to demand more drastic austerity than Republicans could have gotten away with.

Only the sacrifice hasn’t been shared–corporate profits are at new highs. And even the New York Times had to point out that the phony budget catastrophe could be solved with cuts in military spending or raising taxes on the richest Americans when the paper “published a “budget puzzle” showing different options for deficit reduction.

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CORPORATE AMERICA may still complain about its supposedly “socialist” leanings, but the Obama administration has served its interests well–and the bosses know it.

Thus, Democratic candidates in the 2010 midterm elections outpaced Republicans in funding from hedge fund managers. “The top 10 highest-paid hedge fund managers in 2009 have dished out campaign contributions almost only to Democrats,” The Hill reported in 2010.

Corporate leaders themselves see no contradiction in looking to both parties. According to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics in 2010, the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association shared 48 top donors, including Comcast, Wal-Mart, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Coca-Cola, AFLAC and Verizon.

Obama’s recent statements that he would seek to eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts for the super-rich in his second term show just how little the Democrats are willing to promise, even in an election-year play for votes.

For starters, ending the Bush tax cuts was a central campaign promise from Obama and congressional Democrats in 2008, and it helped lift the party to a landslide victory that gave it the White House and a huge majority in both houses of Congress. But the Democrats took no action on their pledge for nearly two years after taking office–even delaying a vote until after midterm elections in 2010 that the Republicans looked sure to win.

After suffering an election defeat, the Obama White House began negotiations with the Republicans and–like on so many other issues–capitulated and agreed to extend all the tax cuts. So Obama’s promise to really eliminate the Bush tax cuts this time needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support Obama’s position, which would increase the top marginal tax rate paid only by people making more than $250,000 a year. Obama’s proposal would keep the Bush tax cuts that apply to income under $250,000 a year. “I’m not proposing anything radical here,” Obama said. “I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 a year should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton.”

But even if the top tax rates are increased for the highest income earners, the rich will benefit more than ordinary people from the extention of the other Bush tax breaks. According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, the extention of the Bush tax cuts below $250,000 would be worth an average of $270 a year for the poorest 20 percent–while the richest 1 percent would get an average tax savings of $20,130. That’s less than the average tax cut of $70,790 for the richest 1 percent if all the Bush tax cuts were extended–but it’s still a pretty penny.

If the Obama administration wanted to put forward a serious campaign to make the rich share the sacrifice, it could take a page from the administration of that great progressive, Republican Dwight Eisenhower, when those with the highest incomes had a tax rate of 91 percent in the top income bracket.

In comparison to that, the difference today between the Democratic and Republican proposals are barely noticeable.

As liberal political analyst David Sirota pointed out at Salon.com:

[T]his supposedly monumental debate isn’t over whether to punish or further enrich households in the top 1 percent–both proposals do the latter. Instead, this is a minute dispute over whether the tax code should give each of those households the equivalent salary of one butler (Obama’s plan) or three butlers (Romney’s plan). For every other income group, the two proposals are identical…

Both parties are proposing to enrich the already rich, meaning the whole conflagration is yet another attempt to hide the two-headed monster behind a mask of conflict.

The Democrats have the reputation of being the “party of working people.” But former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips had it right when he called the Democrats the “second-most enthusiastic capitalist party” in history.

The Democrats are every bit as determined to defend the interests of Corporate America as the Republicans–Barack Obama’s record as president proves as much. No one should expect anything different in a second term–regardless of the rhetoric we hear in the months leading up to the November election.


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  1. LennonZA says:

    I’ve been trying to make sense of the American political system.

    You’ve got three parties, but only two of them are ever voted into office. Perhaps it’s time that you guys opted for an independent?

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