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?"
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 home-ownership. 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 home-building 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."
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.