Jonathan Chait

Think Progress: Leave Mitt Romney Alone!

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[Guest post by Matthew Zeitlin] 

Last week, Think Progress caught Mitt Romney saying “corporations are people, my friend.” Jon Chait pointed out that Romney was clearly referring to the incidence of corporate taxeswhich are ultimately borne by peoplenot the more-than-century old legal doctrine by which corporations have the some of the rights and protections as individuals. Romney committed a classic “Kinsley gaffe,” whereby a politician catches flack for saying something true. But that has not stopped Think Progress, which has started to flood the zone with “corporations are people” coverage. They posted a video yesterday entitled “Ron Paul Breaks With Mitt Romney.” They excerpt this exchange: 

KEYES: What did you make of Mitt Romney’s statement that “corporations are people” yesterday?

PAUL: Obviously they’re not. People are individuals, they’re not groups and they’re not companies. Individuals have rights, they’re not collective. You can’t duck that. So individuals should be responsible for corporations, but they shouldn’t be a new creature, so to speak. Rights and obligations should be always back to the individual.

Clearly, Paul is dealing with the legal question, which has next to nothing to do with the question of who ends up bearing the burden of corporate taxes. Think Progress also has another video called “Do Iowans Agree With Mitt Romney That Corporations Are People?” where Iowa state fair attendees clearly interpret the question in the legal and ontological sense and deliver some old-fashioned, Midwestern common sense that, of course, corporations aren’t people. Think Progress is simply taking comments made by the GOP frontrunner out of context in order to bolster the preexisting narrative that Mitt Romney is a tool of corporate interests; and just not a tool of corporate interests, but someone who has drunk so much of the corporate Kool-Aid that he takes the on-its-face absurd view that corporations are people!

A good way to understand what’s going on is to understand the longstanding liberal complaint that conservatives have a media and intellectual infrastructure entirely devoted to the cause of advancing conservative ideas and attacking those politicians and public figures who oppose conservative ideology. Liberals, on the other hand, have the mainstream media, which is largely composed of liberal-leaning individuals, but which is not entirely and solely dedicated to promoting the liberal political cause in the same way the interlocking web of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, publications, radio shows, and televisions stations are.

Think Progress’s continued flogging of one video clip of Mitt Romney saying “corporations are people, my friend” is exactly the type of thing liberals complain about when conservatives do it to liberals. The clip was plucked from CSPAN, aggressively promoted by Think Progress, reported on by mainstream outlets, turned into an ad for the DNC, and then, on Monday, promoted by Think Progress again in an effort to keep the controversy alive and, through repetition, make Mitt Romney seem like the “corporations are people, my friends” guy.

This type of thing, despite its slippery relation to the reality of what happened, is the nascent progressive media infrastructure in action. Whether or not it’s successful depends on whether more mainstream, less partisan voices take this stuff seriously, or at least accept the progressive framing that Mitt Romney said something controversial. But the real question is whether the liberal thinkers lamenting the so-called “hack gap” between conservatives and liberals are comfortable with what the progressive counterpart to the conservative media infrastructure looks like.

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