Romney’s Curious View of Freedom

Exclusive: Election 2012 is a choice between two visions for America’s future and also a contest between two versions of the U.S. past. Mitt Romney and the Tea Party draw from a national narrative that claims the Framers opposed a strong central government, while President Obama sees the opposite, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Mitt Romney is famous for answers so disconnected from what normal people say that some observers joke that he must be from another planet. He lands in Michigan and declares “the trees are the right height.” He goes on a TV show and says he “wears as little as possible” to bed, which would suggest nudity or some moral clash with his Mormon faith.

And when the Republican presidential nominee is asked on CBS’ “60 Minutes” about the specifics of his tax plan, he demurs with the response: “The devil’s in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.” A reasonable reaction to such an answer might be, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets a crowd. (Photo credit:

Yet, the Romney campaign has bristled when analysts and critics have stepped in to fill the void on Romney’s vacuous tax strategy by making their own assumptions about what it would take to enact his 20 percent cut in income tax rates while not raising the deficit, as Romney has claimed he would do. Romney’s fuzziness has left little choice but to speculate how he might handle the math.

One of those logical assumptions is that Romney would have to eliminate or sharply curtail the mortgage-interest deduction which amounts to a tax break for homeownership. If the deduction were removed or phased out, the immediate impact would be a decline in home prices, which would push even more Americans underwater on their home equity. That would deliver another body blow to the U.S. economy.

So, rather than an “angel” of a policy “creating more jobs,” the reality is that slashing the mortgage-interest deduction would further reduce the spendable income of many middle-class American homeowners, which would mean they could buy fewer goods and services, which, in turn, would mean more layoffs and fewer jobs.

Plus, more foreclosures and short sales would discourage new homebuilding and threaten millions of jobs associated with that industry. Not to mention that there are independent studies that conclude that Romney’s 20 percent tax cut would so reduce tax payments from the rich that his only alternative would be raise taxes on the middle class through elimination of more tax deductions.

However, on “60 Minutes,” rather than pursue Romney with aggressive follow-ups on his tax plan, CBS correspondent Scott Pelley teed up a softball for the Republican presidential nominee, noting, “Presidencies are remembered for big ideas, emancipation, Social Security, man on the moon. What’s your big idea?”

Romney’s response was just as vague as his angelic tax plan: “Freedom. I want to restore the kind of freedom that has always driven America’s economy. And that’s allowed us to be the shining city on the hill.”

Defining Issue

Again, Romney offered no details, but he did touch on what may be the defining issue not only for this campaign but for America’s future. How do you define “freedom”?

For Romney, freedom appears to be freeing up corporations which (or who) “are people, my friend,” according to another Romneyism and letting them to do pretty much whatever they want to those flesh-and-blood people.

Romney seems to think that “freedom” means freeing Wall Street from government regulation, letting health insurance companies shed sick people from coverage, liberating “job-creators” from pesky labor unions, unleashing oil companies from environmental rules, and letting wealthy investors pay lower tax rates than middle-class Americans who actually work for a living.

In other words, despite Romney’s stylistic differences from the Tea Partiers, he the uptight princeling from Mormon royalty and they the followers of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are more in agreement than many pundits might think. They both equate “freedom” as freedom from the federal government, although they come at the issue from different directions.

Romney’s grievances against federal authority may reflect his Mormon heritage, including his grandfather’s flight to Mexico in the 1800s amid a federal crackdown on Mormon polygamy and against the church’s theocratic rule in the Utah territory. Romney also absorbed the cultural resentment that freewheeling “venture capitalists” typically feel toward securities regulators and other obstacles to extracting big profits.

For the Right’s Tea Party base, however, the anger toward the “tyrannical” federal government derives, in part, from a different source, their false narrative describing the nation’s founding. Tea Partiers put on tri-corner hats, dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and wave “Don’t Tread on Me” flags because they have been sold a bogus storyline about how and why the Framers wrote the Constitution.

Over the past several decades, one front in the Right’s “war of ideas” has been to transform the Framers into anti-government ideologues who saw the Constitution as a device for constraining the authority of the central government, while ceding broad powers to the states and creating a “you’re-on-your-own” economy.

In reality, nearly the opposite was true. The Constitution’s Framers engineered the most significant transfer of power from the states to the central government in U.S. history. They also wanted the federal government to be an engine for national progress, and they had little regard for states’ rights.

On a personal level, key Framers, including James Madison and George Washington, despised the idea of state “sovereignty” and “independence.” As commander in chief of the Continental Army, Washington had confronted the national disorganization resulting from 13 squabbling states under the Articles of Confederation. The chaos continued into the post-war era with economic stagnation and commercial challenges from Europe.

So, with Washington’s staunch support, Madison plotted the destruction of the states’ rights-oriented Articles of Confederation and its replacement by the federal-government-is-supreme Constitution. That was the whole idea of the Constitutional Convention held in secret in Philadelphia in 1787.

Madison’s Makeover

However, in recent years, the Right’s “scholars” recognizing the allure of a national mythology whether true or false have labored to revise the history. Their makeover of Madison has been particularly striking.

By cherry-picking and taking out of context some of his comments in the Federalist Papers and by exaggerating his sop to the Anti-Federalists in the Tenth Amendment, the Right turned Madison into his opposite, a hater of a strong central government and a lover of states’ rights. [For details on how this history was distorted, see’s “The Right’s Inside-Out Constitution.”]

Next, the likes of Glenn Beck popularized this false founding narrative, giving important impetus to the Tea Party. Millions of Americans associated themselves with a movement that they thought was defending the Framers’ vision of a weak central government, powerful states and little or no federal role outside the maintenance of a huge standing army.

In effect, today’s Right merged Ayn Rand theories of unbridled selfishness with the quasi-religion of magical markets and placed it all under the umbrella of a founding national narrative that equates states’ rights and the rights of corporations as the essence of American “liberty.”

In an imperfect way that is what Election 2012 is about, which narrative will dominate the future. President Barack Obama, who was a constitutional law professor, sees the Constitution in the context of the pragmatism that was at the core of what the Framers were trying to achieve, that is, a governing structure for addressing the needs of a diverse and growing nation.

Those early national leaders applied the constitutional powers creatively and broadly, whether Alexander Hamilton’s national bank or Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territories (negotiated by then-Secretary of State James Madison).

During the last century, the trust-busting policies of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and later reforms like Medicare and civil rights legislation drew on those traditions by using federal authority to solve problems impinging on the nation’s “general welfare.”

Obama has tried to follow that path, albeit with a fair share of stumbles, by pushing through the Affordable Care Act, the economic stimulus bill, the auto bailout and new Wall Street regulations. Broadly speaking, Obama favors putting the power of the federal government on the side of average Americans.

He also has done so in the face of stiff resistance, at a time when the Republicans and many media pundits are enthralled by the revisionist narrative, that American “liberty” has always been about letting corporations and the rich do whatever they want and letting states dominate national governance.

The Romney Example

Romney has come to personify that approach, an extremely wealthy financier who prides himself on paying low taxes and who in private settings with fellow millionaires speaks with disdain about the struggling masses and their need for government help. He also wants to defer to the states on major national problems like health care.

Whether on behalf of his Mormon ancestors or his Wall Street chums, Romney may see his quest for the presidency as a decisive moment to enshrine the anti-government narrative and to defeat the alternative one that says “We the People” in the Constitution’s Preamble means putting the power of government to work building a country for all.

Without doubt, the Framers were flawed men. Many were slave-owning aristocrats who feared the dangers of unrestrained democracy in which the downtrodden might demand a reversal of fortune for the rich. Some of Madison’s “checks and balances” were designed to avoid extreme swings in popular passions.

There were other obvious tensions within the constitutional structure regarding exactly where the boundaries of authority were. That, too, was part of Madison’s structure.

But the Framers clearly saw the Constitution as creating a powerful central government and a dynamic system that had the flexibility to address national problems, then and in the future. For instance, one of Madison’s most cherished features was the Commerce Clause, which gave the federal government the power to regulate national commerce.

The whole point of including the Commerce Clause among the enumerated powers of Congress was to put the federal government to work improving the economic conditions of the nation. In their time, the Framers talked about construction of roads and canals, but they also wanted the federal government to protect the competitiveness of U.S. commerce versus the more developed economies of Europe.

But that role along with that history is on the line in Election 2012. The American people can side with the actual Framers in treating the Constitution as a tool for addressing national problems or they can join with the Tea Partiers who embrace a false narrative that equates “freedom” with hostility toward the federal government.

If that’s the result, it could mean near total “freedom” for our fellow citizens, the corporations.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.


15 comments for “Romney’s Curious View of Freedom

  1. ORAXX
    September 28, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Romney doesn’t appear to have thought anything out very completely. He simply buys into right wing gospel.

  2. lYNNE
    September 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    eenie meanie miney moe Plutocracy or Theocracy or maybe both if you vote for the GOP in 2012

  3. MA
    September 29, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Fixation on Israel’s crimes like attack on USS Liberty ? Is it factual or paranoid?

  4. sulphurdunn
    September 29, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Your statement commits the ad hominem fallacy. What the gentleman says about the intent of the Framers is true or false on its merits and bears no logical relationship to his positions on Israel. Furthermore, I have never read anything by Mr. Perry that would even remotely suggests to me that he has some kind of “paranoid fixation” about Jews. However, after reading this article I suppose a paranoid reader could arrive at the same mistaken conclusion as you have but about Mormons rather than Jews.

  5. oudiva
    September 29, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Romney’s view of freedom has a good deal in common with the view of antebellum plantation owners: Freedom means being able to make as much money as possible from other people’s work. He may be from Michigan, but he’s a Confederate at heart.

  6. JonnyJames
    September 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Obama’s curious idea of freedom: NDAA 2012. Ask Chris Hedges and Dr. Cornel West about the lawsuit against the Obama admin.

    NDAA 2012 gives the exec. branch arbitrary powers to detain anyone without charge, without evidence, without trial – indefinetely. In addition to shredding much of the Bill of Rights, NDAA nullifies a good part of the Magna Carta of 1215. We have rolled back our legal framework to the Dark Ages.

    With “freedom” lovers like this we don’t need no stinkin Romney.

    The rank hypocrisy of the WinnerTakesAll two party system is unbelievable.

    Either way, the US is a neo-feudal prison state. Obama has not, cannot, and will not change anything for the better. It will only get worse.

    Been to the airport lately? Freedom? How Orwellian can we get?

    • je proteste
      September 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      Take back the Democratic Party. Throw out all the neo-liberals.

      Change the rules that favor a two-party system. Instant run-off voting or something like it would be a good start: you can tackle that at the state level.

      Work on better organization of a single leftist third party.
      But first, keep the far worse of the two evils out of the White House, and kick them (or keep them) out of other elected offices. The more power they have, the worse your chances for doing any of the preceding.

      • JonnyJames
        September 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        No worries, the status-quo shall prevail and Obama will “win” the multi-billion dollar “election”. The neo-fascist, neo-feudal agenda will continue until massive organized civil disobedience occcurs. (see Hoaward Zinn et al.) The Occupy movement was just a small taste. Whatever happens, the Orwellian slow train wreck will coninue, as it has since Clinton signed NAFTA, CFMA, FSMA, FCA etc.

        At least Obama (just like Bubba) is a much slicker, more sophisticated liar and he generates much better PR image for the Empire Inc. than that other freak. Despite his BS rhetoric, Romney is bad for business. Sure the Kochs, Adelson and many other neo-fascist plutocrats support Rommey, but Obama has raised far more money and has the backing of Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan.

        I will not vote for either corporate-puppet candidate, but if I were to wager a bet, I would go with Obama since the bankstas got his back. (just like last time).

  7. je proteste
    September 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    It negates nothing. But apparently it lessens your approval – which is not the same thing.

    Who are you to decide which truths should be told – or how often they should be told?

    Want to be the arbiter? Start your own site.

    • je proteste
      September 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Sorry, ‘it’ should have reflected a specification of reporting on Israel, not to the non-existent ‘fixation.’

  8. clarence swinney
    September 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    yes we can—-BALANCE THAT BUDGET
    1945 to 1980 we taxed wealth and estates to pay off WWII debt.
    Now, we need the same to Pay off the “Republican” debt.
    We have an income of 14,000B.
    2013 budget calls for 2900B in revenue and 900B in deficit.
    A shame that a nation with 14,000B income borrows 900B on a 3800B Budget.
    We rank #4 on Inequality in OECD nations and above only Chile and Mexico as Least taxed.
    In Federal-State and Local taxes we tax 27% of our GDP..
    Since 1980, our tax rates have been cut to favor the wealthy.
    Top 50% take 86% of individual income and pay a 12.5% Tax Rate
    70,000,000 take 14% and all pay the full payroll tax.
    The top 400 are billionaires. Some pay no payroll tax.
    Most pay less than 1%.

    We MUST go back to taxing Estates and Wealth at higher rates.
    One family has more wealth than 90% of families.

    We can balance our budget and pay off our debt which will give the middle class a larger share of our wealth and an improved standard of living. clarence swinney

  9. lokywoky
    September 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    The reason for the “fixation” on Israel is that the Israeli government drives much of what purports to be US foreign policy in the Middle East. Other countries not so much. Simple as that. When Lebanon or UAE or Dubai has such an outsized influence on the US foreign policy, then I would expect the writers here at CN to “fixate” on them as well.

    But just this week we have Bibi Netanyahu pounding on the desk at the UN demanding that the US draw a red line in the sand for Iran and then attack them if they cross it, complete with cartoon bombs and all. Israel, with its 200 nukes and it’s ghetto-like encirclements around Gaza etc.

    Yah. Ok.

    The same Bibi who basically told the US to go suck eggs when he was asked nicely to abide by the treaties and agreements Israel has signed over and over again to stop building settlements in the West Bank.

    Yup. Them.

    So stop defending Israel and open your eyes.

    • paschn
      October 5, 2012 at 11:59 am

      So, it angers you that people might be kissing Arab ass rather than israeli?
      I would proffer this, you go “home” to Israel, fight your own hegemonious wars with white phosphorous/nuclear/biological/chemical weapons until you piss off the semites in the area enough that they finally kick all the thieving, non-semite Ashkenazi’s and their ill obtained/never followed, (on their part), Balfour Declaration in which Britain, (under orders from the City of London?), “gave” Palestinian land to the Khazars, back to Easern Europe and take their land back,

      we’ll turn our focus on preventing arm twisting to get Pollard released to a heroes welcome in Tel Aviv and check Romney’s birth records very closely;

      Exposing israel’s rabid temper, horrendous human rights violations is political, not religeous. So why don’t you stop flinging the mostly comic rantings about WAAAAH!!, antisemitism,

      and find a new catch phrase to promolgate the “poor victimized Ashkenazi” used to sucker the West into murdering/stealing for “the chosen” thus keeping it where it belongs, in the political arena not religeous? There’s simply too much evidence pointing in the other direction.

      Below is a link to a very enlightening book, written, (ironically), by a jewish man.

      Many jews themselves find israel a pebble in their shoe as well;

      Truth is just that, truth and nothing more, (or less).

  10. DefineYourTerms
    September 30, 2012 at 11:48 am

    “Obama has tried to follow that path, albeit with a fair share of stumbles, by pushing through the Affordable Care Act, the economic stimulus bill, the auto bailout and new Wall Street regulations. Broadly speaking, Obama favors putting the power of the federal government on the side of average Americans.”

    Your analysis of the rewriting of history by the republican party is a well worded and thoughtful analysis.

    I don’t see how you spare Obama from the spotlight of his own pro-corporate attitudes?

  11. BARBBF
    October 3, 2012 at 9:55 am


    The Butchering of Gaddafi Is America’s Crime

    by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

    “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared like ghoulish despots at a Roman Coliseum, reveling in their Libyan gladiators’ butchery.”

    Last week the whole world saw, and every decent soul recoiled, at the true face of NATO’s answer to the Arab Spring. An elderly, helpless prisoner struggled to maintain his dignity in a screaming swirl of savages, one of whom thrusts a knife [4] up his rectum. These are Europe and America’s jihadis in the flesh. In a few minutes of joyously recorded bestiality, the rabid pack undid every carefully packaged image of NATO’s “humanitarian” project in North Africa – a horror and revelation indelibly imprinted on the global consciousness by the brutes’ own cell phones.

    Nearly eight months of incessant bombing by the air forces of nations that account for 70 percent of the world’s weapons spending, all culminating in the gang-bang slaughter of Moammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and his military chief of staff, outside Sirte. The NATO-armed bands then displayed the battered corpses for days in Misurata – the city that had earlier made good on its vow to “purge Black skin” through the massacre and dispersal of 30,000 darker residents of nearby Tawurgha – before disposing of the bodies in an unknown location.

    The saner sections of America’s psychological operations machinery – including their collaborators in the corporate media – were doubtless as horrified as anyone at the Libyan jihadis’ insistence on revealing so graphically to the entire planet the barbaric character of the “revolution.” The months of gushing, ad nauseam press reports of near-universal jubilation in Tripoli and elsewhere at rebel “victories” – always under cover of NATO bombs – now made great sense. Who but those in search of instant martyrdom would voice displeasure at the NATO-jihadi triumph, with murderous fiends such as this roaming the streets?

    “In a few minutes of joyously recorded bestiality, the rabid pack undid every carefully packaged image of NATO’s ’humanitarian’ project in North Africa.”

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