Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, looks on during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget at the U.S. Capitol on April 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)

For a Nice Guy, Mitt Romney Sure Is Mean About Social Security

For a man who cultivates such politesse, the senator acts like—dare I say it?—an asshole.

I've been fascinated by this exchange between Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and my friend and colleague Alex Lawson since I first saw it. I can't stop thinking about it, probably because it is one of the worst self-owns I've seen in a long time. Watching Romney fulminate is like looking at a yacht crash in slow motion (with a dog strapped to the top of the yacht).

When a Washington politician mentions "bipartisanship," what they're talking about is getting big-money Republicans and big-money Democrats to secretly make decisions that go against the will of the people.

Romney's comments (transcribed here) are a perfect distillation of Washington "bipartisanship" at its worst (a word I've defined as "the ability to buy members of both parties."). And despite his well-polished reputation for niceness, here Romney is arrogant and rude. For a man who cultivates such politesse, the senator acts like--dare I say it?--an asshole.

Romney's rudeness is evident from the start, as he insults Lawson and Nancy Altman, both of Social Security Works, for being part of what he calls the "think-tank" world. Describing think tanks as places for "failed politicians (who) are anxious to stay involved"--neither Lawson nor Altman have ever run for office--Romney sneeringly adds, "We don't need more think tanks; we need more 'do' tanks."

That depends on what you intend to do, Senator.

The occasion was last Thursday's Senate Budget Committee's hearing on Social Security solvency and benefits, directed by committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Lawson and Altman testified in support of plans to expand Social Security benefits and establish long-term solvency, primarily by raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires. (Sanders has a bill which would do that, as does Rep. John Larwson (D-CT) in the House.)

(Romney's gibes toward Lawson and Altman also unwittingly insulted a witness who was there to buttress Romney: Maya MacGuineas. MacGuineas is the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a billionaire-funded think tank in Washington DC.)

Romney continues:

"Senator Sanders makes a wonderful plea, which many, many people agree with: the need for helping our seniors and providing better benefits for them, and so forth, but recognize, this bill has no chance whatsoever, of receiving a single Republican vote, in either House. So it will not be passed. And he knows that ... for any legislation of scale to be passed requires Republicans and Democrats to work together."

He adds, "That's the nature of our democracy."

No, it isn't. The Republicans' abuse of the filibuster has undermined our democracy. But let us continue.

Romney then says: "We have a 50/50 Senate. Half of the American people voted for Republicans; half voted for Democrats."

This is also false. While the vote totals were roughly 50/50 in 2020's Senate races, today's Senate is the result of earlier elections as well. Democrats won a total of 28,011,244 more votes than Republicans did in 2016 and 2018. Today's 50/50 split is the result of archaic election rules and the ruthless cynicism of Romney's own party.

Romney then says, "To get something done requires bipartisanship."

Ah, there we have it. Understand, dear reader, that when a Washington politician mentions "bipartisanship," what they're talking about is getting big-money Republicans and big-money Democrats to secretly make decisions that go against the will of the people. It's been tried before, with "deficit commissions" and "Gangs of Six" and all sorts of tricks that boil down to one thing: let's get politicians behind closed doors to cut a deal in secret, so that none of them have to take the political hit for doing what voters don't want but their campaign donors do.

That's exactly what Romney's "TRUST Act" would do: pair up corporate Dems and corporate Republicans to stick it to working people. As so many "buy-partisans" do, Romney refuses to argue the facts or merits of the case. "This is back to the think tank versus the 'do' tank," he tells Lawson. "What would you do to get bipartisanship? How are you going to get bipartisanship to work together?"

It's hard to read the real emotions of someone who worked in finance, an industry whose favorite motto is "Sincerity: Once you can fake it you've got it made." But Romney seems genuinely aggrieved. I half expected him to start reciting the bipartisan's favorite quote, Teddy Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena." You've probably heard it:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs ... but who does actually strive to do the deeds ... his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

The quote has been deployed by Republicans and centrist Democrats alike. It's typically used when somebody is, as Romney does here, using the brokenness of our political system as cover for their own misdeeds. This kind of talk lets them feel brave for acting in a cowardly fashion. They usually pair these diatribes with calls for "civility," even as they defend the foul language and incivility of anti-Social Security allies like retired Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY).

These people aren't "the man in the arena." They're the palooka in the locker room, taking money from the bookies to throw the big fight.

Why do we need secret committees at all? The entire purpose of legislative democracy is to debate important issues openly, in front of the people whose lives are at stake. If Romney and his colleagues were truly decent, they would be willing to do just that.

Funny thing: scarred old cynic that I am, I still thought Mitt Romney was probably a nice guy. But watch the video: he sneers, snarls, and condescends, even as he maneuvers to undermine social programs that millions of people depend on.

Mitt Romney is not the class act I thought he was. He's just Alan Simpson with better hair.

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