At first glance former mayor and now Washington D.C. Councilman Marion Barry and presidential candidate Mitt Romney seem to have nothing in common. Their personalities and their politics seem to be very different. We are told that Barry is a liberal Democrat and Romney a conservative Republican. That difference we are taught is an essential one. Perhaps another look is in order.
Last week, after the primary night victory for his council seat, Barry said “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go. I’ll just say that right now, you know.” This is typical Barry—play to the hatred, fear, and ignorance in people. Divide and conquer with an opiate for the masses message of blaming others.
After public uproar, last Friday Barry sought to explain that his comments didn’t apply to Asians who give back and contribute to the community. Apparently there is a scorecard to be kept and some kind of reciprocity is demanded.
Now consider the better dressed, better spoken, more “respectable” candidate for president Mitt Romney. No doubt, if asked, Romney would condemn Barry’s hate-filled message. But consider Romney’s own words in the Wall Street Journal this past February:
In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China’s cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.
Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender.
Scratch the surface and Romney’s message is the same as Barry’s. Barry was explaining a local problem: For the lack of adequate businesses and thus the lack of a vibrant economy in his council district he blamed and bashed those who are solving the problem—Asians who work long hours for meager pay and often put their lives at risk.
Similarly, Romney was explaining a national problem: For an economy that is in deep trouble he blamed and bashed those who are helping to solve the problem. Without China as a trading partner—and holder of our burgeoning national debt—our economy would’ve collapsed already. China’s purchase or our surplus dollars helps to allow the reckless spending schemes of politicians like Romney to continue. China’s U.S. debt holdings are currently $1.132 trillion, and they are the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities. As for China being a “currency manipulator”—look in the mirror. Our own central bank has been doing its best to debase our currency for many years.
Are Romney and Barry really this ignorant of economic realities? Or are they doing the same thing— stirring their constituencies by bashing those who won’t vote for them or can’t vote for them anyway.
How contemptible this behavior is. In Romney’s case, he is hoping to shore up votes from the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party while hoping that those who are repelled by his China bashing will have nowhere else to go. In Barry’s case, we see a career politician who has continually demonstrated a lack of personal responsibility. Many in Barry’s council district live below the poverty level. Empty storefronts are available to start businesses throughout his district, and yet Barry has the temerity to attack those who take an entrepreneurial chance.
There is no zero-sum game in Barry’s district. The more businesses that open up—whether they are owned by Asian-Americans or African-Americans—the more attractive Barry’s district is to additional businesses. This makes his district a more attractive place to live which attracts even more businesses. This is a positive cycle that feeds on itself. In contrast, drive out Asian businesses and economic decay and hardship multiply.
The result of a trade war with China would be disastrous economically. Prices would rise in the United States, and already squeezed households would be forced to cut back spending. But even more importantly, Romney’s belligerent words are not likely to intimidate China. Instead, any trade war that results would threaten world peace. Why? Fighting rarely breaks out between trading partners because their economic interests are too intertwined.
Barry threatens racial harmony in his district as well as the economic well-being of his district. Romney threatens world peace and the economic well-being of the United States. No, Romney and Barry will never be political allies; but it is important to see that they share a common message of economic ignorance and destructive bullying.
At their core Barry’s story and Romney’s story (I call them stories because they are made-up) have the same theme: Someone else or something else is responsible for our problems. This story is an unworthy one because it keeps us rooted in our problems and prevents us from finding real solutions. We would expect as much from Marion Barry, but shame on Mitt Romney for joining the ranks of politicians who peddle the politics of blame.