Question: What are the connecting threads between these two recent Mitt Romney news items:the announcement that he's not enrolling in Medicare, and the revelation that Bain Capital helped him make money helping the Chinese government spy on its people?
Answer: They're both covert attacks on innocent civilians, and they're both based on Romney's own deceptions.
Think about it for a second:
As The New York Times reported, Bain-owned Uniview Technologies is the primary supplier for China's system of spying on its citizens — in schools, on streets, in Buddhist temples and in mosques, and anywhere else the Chinese people gather. The Times quotes Buddhist monk Loksag as saying, "There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear."
Thank you, Mr. Would-be President! When Mitt Romney talks about "getting tough on the Chinese," people didn't realize that he meant the Chinese people, not their leadership.
It's a blind trust! That was Romney's defense this week, even though he called blind trusts for politicians an "age-old ruse" when he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994. But here comes the lie: Romney's trustee promised to divest his estate of any holdings that could be tied to repression — and they don't come any more tied to repression than this one.
What's that got to do with Romney's decision not to accept Medicare coverage when he turned 65? Both of these moves were based on dishonesty and secrecy. The press reaction to Romney's Medicare decision missed the point. Ethan Rome is absolutely right that this move emphasized Romney's 1 percent status — and also highlighted the fact that he's 65, despite looking younger, so it was a doubly inept political move on that score.
It's also true that you can't just "reject Medicare." You can decline to enroll in Part B coverage (for physician and other outpatient services), but Part A hospitalization coverage is trickier to decline and you'll probably forfeit your Social Security benefits as well if you do — which may be the point.
Once you get past the blunders, it's clear that Romney was acting as part of a larger plan to cut everyone's Medicare and Social Security benefits. He's a covert agent of sorts — even if he's an inept one in the Don Adams/Rowan Atkinson tradition. The plan's been underway for quite a while, and here's how it works:
- Reframe social insurance programs so that they're giveaways, not something people have paid for throughout their lives.
- Convince everyone that "the wealthy" don't deserve Medicare or Social Security.
- Carefully avoid defining what you mean by "wealthy."
- Propose a "means test" to determine whether you're too "rich."
- And whatever you do, don't tell the truth — that the Concord Coalition, the far-right-group that spearheaded "means testing," defined "wealthy" as anyone who earned $20,000 a year or more during their working life.
Romney's not improvising here — he's acting according to a script, even if he can't help blowing his lines.
The first point is important. Medicare and Social Security are social insurance programs. People pay for them throughout their lives, both from their paychecks and from their taxes. It would sound absurd if Mitt Romney had a car accident and refused to cash his auto insurance check to repair his Rolls Royce — and it would be absurd. He paid the premiums and he deserves to use the coverage he bought. Social insurance programs work on the same principle.
But how do we know that the "means test" approach is really just a ruse to cut benefits for middle-class Americans? Simple: If they really wanted to target the wealthy, and just the wealthy, they could do it with taxation. They could tax their earnings to fund the program, as Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed.
Means-testing, on the other hand, requires a massive new administrative structure that combines Medicare, the Social Security Administration, and the IRS. It would be costly, centralized, cumbersome, invasive, and it would create a new Federal bureaucracy to pry into the financial lives of senior Americans.
Intrusive? Centralized? Invasive? Hey, maybe Uniview Technologies will get the contract!
Say what you will about Mitt Romney: He may be a bumbler, but when it comes to money he's not stupid.