Rick Santorum understands these fault lines viscerally. Mitt Romney lives and thinks like a conservative, but he's not a good polemical conservative. One aspect of his stump speech that falls particularly flat with Republican primary voters is when he describes President Obama as a "good man" who "just doesn't get it."
It isn't that conservatives think Obama is personally evil (well, OK, some do), but they don't want their candidate to concede the moral high ground. That really rankles. Romney fell into that trap by conceding that he would raise the minimum wage after his gaffe about the "very poor." No! Everyone knows that the minimum wage increases youth unemployment. The answer to the problems of the very poor (at least those not mentally or physically disabled), as Romney has elsewhere emphasized, is to unshackle the private sector to create jobs and to remove the government incentives to idleness (such as 99 weeks of unemployment benefits).
The Heritage Foundation has just released its annual Index of Dependence on Government. Since 2008, the number of Americans dependent on state subsidies has grown 23 percent, to the point where 1 in 5 Americans is now dependent on the government. That's the highest rate in history.
The 20 percent of Americans who depend on government receive an average of $32,748 in benefits, which is more than the disposable income of the average American. Fifty-three percent of all American infants are now enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Fifty-three percent!
The greatest enlargement in dependency in American history may strike President Obama and his liberal supporters as a moral triumph -- but for most conservatives it represents both an injustice and a fiscal calamity. It's an injustice both to those who pay for it (the minority who still pay income taxes) and to many of those enveloped in state subsidies. Dependence breeds intractable poverty and low self-esteem.
Someone needs to ask Obama how an increasingly impoverished nation, limping along on food stamps and housing subsidies, is going to pay for the existing beneficiaries, along with 77 million baby boomers set to retire in the next 25 years. A president who has impaired the vibrancy of the private sector so badly has long since forfeited the moral high ground.