CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research


En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The New York Times Is Confused: It Thinks That President Obama and Governor Romney are Philosophers

The New York Times Is Confused: It Thinks That President Obama and Governor Romney are Philosophers

Thursday, 04 October 2012 04:37

The NYT is badly confused. While most of us recognize President Obama and Governor Romney as politicians, the NYT somehow came to believe that they are political philosophers. That is the inevitable conclusion that would be drawn from a front page piece headlined:

"a clash of philosophies."

The first paragraph tells readers:

"Somewhere in the wonky blizzard of facts, statistics and studies thrown out on stage here on Wednesday night was a fundamental philosophical choice about the future of America, quite possibly the starkest in nearly three decades."

This theme is repeated throughout the piece.

Of course neither candidate has gotten their position based on their political philosophy. They both managed to get their party's nomination as a result of their ability to appeal to powerful interest groups.

The effort by the article to imply clear philosophical distinctions falls on its face. For example, the piece reports that

"Mr. Obama expressed worry about those who would lose out if government programs are cut too deeply, while Mr. Romney talked about those who feel constrained by excessive government taxation and regulation."

Mr. Romney presumably knows that taxes are no higher today than they were in the Bush administration and that they are considerably lower than they were when the economy was growing 4.0 percent annually in the last four years of the Clinton administration. He also knows that relatively few new regulations have been put in place in the Obama years, so this cannot be a major factor slowing growth. In other words, Romney is saying these things because he hopes that they will have some resonance with the public or at least people who will support his campaign, not because he actually believes them.

Later the piece tells readers:

"Mr. Romney talked about the impact of the continuing economic problems, noting that the cost of gasoline, electricity, food and health care has grown. 'I’ll call it the economy tax,' he said. 'It’s been crushing.'"

In fact, gas prices have generally lagged behind the peaks reached in 2008, so Romney cannot "note" that the cost of gasoline has grown. Electricity prices have also fallen in many areas. Furthermore, Governor Romney surely knows that the price of gas is determined on world markets and the U.S. government's actions have little or no impact on it. So these comments are being said for their political effect, it is implausible to believe that they reflect a political philosophy.

The same logic applies to the next paragraph:

"The Republican focused on the impact on small business of Mr. Obama’s policies. 'It’s not just Donald Trump you’re taxing,' he said. 'It’s all those businesses that employ one-quarter of the workers in America.' He added, 'You raise taxes and you kill jobs.'”

Only a small percent of businesses are structured as proprietorships and owned by individuals who will be subject to the higher tax rate supported by President Obama. These businesses do not employ anywhere close to one-quarter of the workers in America. (If they did, they hardly could be considered "small.") Romney surely knows these facts, so again these assertions cannot possibly reflect a political philosophy. 

On the other side, the piece tells readers:

"Mr. Obama expressed worry about those who would lose out if government programs are cut too deeply."

On several occasions, most notably the bailout of Wall Street banks and the promotion of trade agreements that will redistribute billions to the pharmaceutical and entertainment industries, President Obama has clearly put the interest of powerful corporate interests ahead of the interests of middle and lower income families.

In short, the effort to portray the contest between President Obama and Governor Romney as a debate over philosophy is an invention of the media. It has no basis in the world. 

Comments (8)Add Comment
The Voodoo Philosophy of Trickle Down Economics by Romney - Reverse It
written by Last Mover, October 04, 2012 5:59
Knowing he would be attacked for not explaining where tax revenue would come from in his tax reduction plan for the rich thus increasing the deficit, combined with the perception (and reality) that the middle class would be worse off if he was President, Romney came out swinging for the middle class, ranting repeatedly that his plan was to reduce taxes for middle class America, claiming it would grow the economy enough to reduce the deficit.

It's good to know Romney has rejected the usual trickle down argument, replaced by a new version of voodoo supply side economics that claims tax cuts for the middle class will pay for themselves rather than the usual claim made for tax cuts to the wealthy.

It's a reversal of the trickle up economics that created the ultra wealthy by upward redistribution. It's still trickle up economics but now it effectively means according to Romney, that job creators are actually in the middle class and therefore support the upper and lower classes by giving them jobs.

It may not be philosophy but for economic purposes it certainly qualifies as the highest form of voodoo witchcraft.
Emeritus Professor
written by Stephen Clark, October 04, 2012 6:34
Even - or maybe especially - non-philosophers can be influenced by past (or even present) philosophies: it's by philosophizing that (perhaps) we escape those influences. But you make some good points contra both camps!
written by Ellis, October 04, 2012 10:46
It's just political theater. Both candidates pretend to disagree, when they they really don't. To pretend that there is a choice in this election is a complete sham.
where was Gary Johnson
written by pete, October 04, 2012 11:10
Right on Dean...2 parties captured, for sure. To really talk philosophy, you need candidates who have some consistency and perhaps differ. For example, the simple philosophy that I have no right to run your life. That the use of force by the government should be significantly curtailed. That we should not subsidize Exxon by having troops in the Middle East and building highways to the suburbs. That we should not tell folks what chemicals they may ingest. And so forth. Candidates with philosophy's are rare.

Fortunately, in most states there is no "wasting a vote" by voting Libertarian, or Green, or whatever, since the Reds and Blues are so dominant. I would encourage all in non "battleground" states to dump the two parties this time, since as was pointed out recently on NPR, their "5 point plans" are nearly identical...Obama's different since his #5 included killing civilians with drones.
Philosophical Debate
written by Donald Pretari, October 04, 2012 5:52
To the extent that such a debate would take place, it would have no practical effects on the Legislative Process.
philosophers-don't make us laugh
written by mel in oregon, October 04, 2012 5:57
they don't have any real belief in much of anything, except maybe a little religious belief. but both support corporate america shafting of the poor & middle class 100%. romney just wants to turn america into a corporatacracy whereby everything in america is totally geared for the wealthy. obama is a me too conservative democrat, basically believing the exact same thing romney does, he just has to pretend to care about we the people. obama is sort of like gore & kerry, he can't say anything that will offend wallstreet. he knows he may lose, but the bigger issue with him is to not end up like jimmy carter. you'll never hear obama criticise israel like carter does. no, obama, if he has to lose, wants to be just like bill clinton. go to those chamber of commerce, or big oil meetings, or big pharma meetings, anywhere where the uber wealthy congregate. 100k to give a 30 minute comedy routine praising corporate chieftans is pretty good pay. that's what he'll do if he loses. romney, if he loses? why he's made more business connections during his run than he ever made at bain. he'll just go on to become a billionaire like his idols, the kochs.
white house influence on oil prices
written by MO, October 04, 2012 9:48
"Governor Romney surely knows that the price of gas is determined on world markets and the U.S. government's actions have little or no impact on it." while it's generally true, at this paticular moment, it's not. one could mention that the crippling(also cruel and useless) sanctions on Iran, make so 2m barells a day of Iranian oil never reach the market. one can also add that the repeated threats of attack, motivates traders(and speculators) to push for eve higher prices.
Loser liberalism's last stand
written by David, October 05, 2012 1:04
Neoliberalism just got outed by Romney. The problem is that it's about the same as neoconservatism. So Romney won't be able to snatch all the middle back, but he nullified much of the political clout of Obama's "centrist" compromises. Big Bird gets shot by the NRA.

Write comment

(Only one link allowed per comment)

This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comments.


Support this blog, donate
Combined Federal Campaign #79613

About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.