In the wake of the release of that tape with him talking about that mythical 47% of lazy bums sponging off those who could afford the $50,000 check to hear him say it, Mitt Romney is doubling down and going full-wingnut. Now he’s claiming that Obama is in favor of “redistribution” while he isn’t.
“He [Obama] really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society. I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America,” Romney said Wednesday at an Atlanta fundraiser. “There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all.”
This is an attempt, of course, to make Obama look like a socialist while Romney poses as the defender of capitalism. But it’s all nonsense. When Romney says he doesn’t believe in redistribution, he’s lying. That universal health care law he so proudly signed in Massachusetts includes subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance; that’s redistribution.
The problem with all of this is that it vastly oversimplifies the situation, boils it down to a simple dichotomy — you’re either for redistribution or against it. But that’s just not the case. No serious politician from either party, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, is ever going to sponsor a bill to eliminate all forms of wealth redistribution. There are arguments over particular programs, and over how much we should fund them, but essentially no one is in favor of eliminating redistribution of wealth entirely. Certainly no president would ever try to pass such a policy; he’d be dead in the water politically, and Romney damn well knows it. He isn’t calling for the elimination of food stamps, school lunch programs, Head Start, S-CHIP, Medicaid, or most of the dozens of other policies that redistribute wealth.
Let’s also bear in mind that there’s a great deal of redistribution of wealth going from mostly middle-class taxpayers to wealthy corporations too. Crop subsidies, for example, go almost entirely to huge agribusiness interests, to the tune of billions of dollars per year. The billions in tax subsidies for oil companies are also redistribution of wealth, but it’s redistributing it up rather than down. Romney never seems to mention those things to the fabulously rich people at his $50,000 a plate fundraisers, likely because a lot of them are a good deal richer because of such redistribution.
As I’ve said many times, this whole redistributionist vs not redistributionist, or socialist vs capitalist argument is just one big false dichotomy. Every single modern nation in the world — even China — long ago figured out that a purely socialist or purely capitalist system does not work. Every major industrialized nation in the world has a mixed economy, combining private ownership of the means of production (China still lags on that, but is a long way from where it used to be) with a social safety net and government regulation. We can argue over where the balance is struck, how big the safety net should be and what kind of regulations we have, but no responsible politician or party is going to propose eliminating all regulations or the entire welfare state, no matter how broad their rhetoric might be when selling themselves during a campaign. The range of politically feasible policies is far narrower than that.