Written by Juan Cole for RSN and Informed Comment
The mainstream media and even Democrats have been slow to call Mitt Romney’s deliberate falsehoods “lies.” But after just calling them what they are, it is also important to analyze their meaning. Lies on Romney’s scale do not simply show contempt for the intelligence of American voters. They show contempt for democracy, and display some of the features of capitalist dictatorship of a sort that was common in the late twentieth century. Mohammad Reza Pahlevi in Iran, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, Park Hung Chee in South Korea and P.W. Boetha in South Africa are examples of this form of government. Capitalist dictatorship has declined around the world in favor of capitalist parliamentarism, in part because of the rising power of middle and working classes in the global South.
Capitalist dictatorship has many similarities to fascism, but differs from it in lionizing not the workers of the nation but the entrepreneurs of the nation. Fascism seeks a mixed economy, whereas capitalist dictatorship privileges the corporate sector and attacks the non-military public sector. But both try to subsume class conflict under a hyper-nationalism. Both glorify military strength and pick fights with other countries to whip up nationalist fervor. Both disallow unions, collective bargaining and workers’ strikes. Both typically privilege one ethnic group within the nation, marking it as superior and setting up a racial hierarchy.
One big difference between capitalist democracy (as in contemporary Germany and France) and capitalist dictatorship is the willingness of the business classes to play by the rules of democratic elections, to allow a free, fair and transparent contest, to acknowledge the rights of unions, and to respect the universal franchise. Businessmen in such a society share a civic ethic that sees these goods as necessary for a well ordered society, and therefore as ultimately good for business. They may also be afraid of the social disruptions (as in France) that would attend any attempt to whittle away workers’ rights. Attempts to limit the franchise, to ban unions, and to manipulate the electorate with bald-faced lies are all signs of a barracuda business class that secretly seeks its class interests above all others in society, and which is not afraid of workers and middle classes because the latter are apolitical, apathetic and disorganized.
1. Romney’s contempt for the democratic process is demonstrated in his preference for the Big Lie. In order to scare workers in Toledo, Ohio, into voting for him, he alleged that President Obama was arranging for Chrysler’s Jeep production to be shifted to China. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent an email to all employees refuting Romney: “I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China…” He pointed out that Jeep production in the US has tripled since 2009. Romney’s political ad containing this sheer falsehood, is blanketing Ohio.
2. Romney backs Koch-brother-funded attempts to bust public unions, as in Wisconsin, even though that effort has run into trouble with Wisconsin courts.
3. Romney supports Koch-brother-funded attempts to suppress voting, typically through state legislatures requiring voter identification documents at polling booths. Such identification often costs money, so that it is a stealth poll tax. It also requires, for non-drivers, a trip to a state office and bureaucratic runarounds. Voter i.d. requirements hit the poor, Latinos, African-Americans and urban people who use public transit hardest, i.e., mostly voters for the Democratic Party. In some states, the courts are questioning the laws. But in many states they are now entrenched. Limiting the franchise was a key tactic for Apartheid South Africa’s government under Boetha, which was run as a capitalist dictatorship on behalf of the white Cape Town business classes.
4. Romney’s devotion to increasing military spending and his rattling of sabers at Russia, China, Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (aren’t we up to about half the world now?) are typical of the militarism of capitalist dictatorship. His repeated pledges to defer to the wishes of the officer corps with regard to whether to end the Afghanistan war suggests a certain amount of Bonapartism, where the business classes bring in the generals to make key decisions. The problem for small authoritarian business classes is that they are in competition for resources with the much larger middle and working classes and in a parliamentary system they risk being outvoted. In order to suppress the latter’s claims on resources and deflect any tendency to vote along class interests, the business classes in this system pose as defenders of the nation, thus hiding class conflict and legitimating the diversion of resources to arms manufacturers and other corporations. Nationalism, militarism and war, along with voter suppression, can even the playing field for the rich.
5. The Romney campaign’s remarks about “Anglo-Saxons” better understanding allies like Britain, and its support for the racist Arizona immigration and profiling law show a preference for racial hierarchy, with “Anglo-Saxons” at the top. Again, many capitalist dictatorships privilege a dominant ethnicity, as with Apartheid South Africa or discrimination against native Chileans by the Pinochet regime in Chile. Fostering racism is a way of dividing and ruling the middle and working classes, of binding a segment of them to the dominant business classes.
Obviously, the Romney version is capitalist dictatorship lite. But its strong resemblance to the full form of that sort of polity is highly disturbing. While these tendencies have existed on the Republican Right for some time, the sheer level of contempt for democracy as demonstrated in the Big Lies, the exaltation of war, the racial profiling, and the new extent of attempts at voter suppression and union-busting all indicate a sharp veering toward authoritarianism.