When I was a child we were one of the last families in our neighborhood to get a television. And within the first couple of years that we had it, the country also held an election – Dick Nixon vs. John Kennedy. As far as I can remember, all the networks carried the two parties’ conventions and my father watched both.
This fact left me extremely irate and I complained bitterly and at length about the usurpation of my new toy, the television, by a bunch of dull old men yelling and acting like fools. My father said nothing, but presented me with a pencil and the “writing tablet” that my mother kept in the kitchen, and told me to write down one thing that I learned from every speech we listened to. It was a successful ploy; it kept me quiet and engaged – and I was totally flattered when my father later discussed my observations with me just as if I were a grown-up and my opinion mattered.
The habit of looking for something new in each speech is still with me, although it now often takes the form of looking for some new twist of rhetoric – something I share with lots of others to judge by the post-convention and live-blogging comments that are proliferating everywhere on the Internet (I too, think Clinton’s “it takes brass…” comment was masterly). Nevertheless, today, I did actually have a moment of revelation. It may be totally trivial, and it may be something that all of you already know and I, as usual, am lagging, but I finally understood the real import of Mitt Romney’s “Let Detroit go brankrupt” argument.
I’ve always thought the issue that folks were emphasizing was that Romney was wrong and that, in contrast, President Obama was right about what had to be done in the case of the automotive industry. But tonight I realized that Romney wasn’t wrong at all from his point of view. He saw an industry that to his eyes was, even in its prosperous days, unnecessarily bloated and which needed to be made lean and mean. For Romney, I now believe, the crisis that was threatening to bring Detroit down was nothing more than an opportunity to remake the business along lines he considered more congenial, to destroy the unions that had made the industry more of a cooperative endeavor, jettison excess workers, cut expenses, and direct more of the profits upwards. Restoring the industry through a government/industry partnership – while bringing the unions along in a scenario of shared sacrifice – was simply a missed opportunity.
This view is, of course conjecture, and I usually despise positing motives that I’ll never be able to verify to explain another person’s actions. But what else are we to think after hearing the stories tonight from autoworkers who were afraid of losing their community as much as their jobs, and then hearing the stories of the Bain workers, none of whom denied that companies can fail without anyone being at fault, but who were justifiably furious that Mitt Romney and Bain executives, rather than losing out with the workers, pocketed millions from their failure?
What exactly, in a nutshell, did I learn from tonight’s Democratic convention? Vulture capitalist is not an empty label. Vultures pick over dead bodies.