During Tuesday’s second presidential debate, we held a live focus group with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on my nationally-syndicated radio program. After the debate was over, the business owners expressed disappointment in both candidates’ performance. They were disappointed that President Obama again disappointed them with his answers, and they were disappointed that Mitt Romney didn’t excite them with his.
“(Romney) missed a chance to show us he truly knows why we’re in the situation we’re in and how we can get out of it,” they told me. When I pressed them on what exactly they meant by that, I realized that these small business owners were saying Obama hasn’t just failed because of his amateurish leadership, but also because his philosophy itself is a failure no matter how capably he attempts to implement it.
This is the argument they want the Republican presidential nominee to make.
Romney’s exhaustive itemization of Obama’s failures is unfortunately correct, but the mistake he keeps making is leaving it up to the American people to then draw the right conclusion based on that information. Romney needs to go for the close, and explain exactly why Obama has failed. Better yet, Romney needs to point out that no matter how well intentioned the American people may feel Obama is, his policies can’t work—which is why they have never worked anywhere they’ve ever been tried in the real world.
Of course, a president who was a subsidized college student, then a subsidized college professor, then a community organizer looking for more subsidies, then a state legislator who became a U.S. Senator who became a president handing out even more subsidies, can’t understand this because he’s never been in the real world.
Of course President Obama can identify with the suffering of the American people more than Romney can, because a majority of the American people are suffering as wards of the welfare state and not enjoying the blessings of liberty. They have been conditioned that government is in whom they live and breathe, and without it they can’t possibly survive let alone thrive. A hallmark of Americanism is that individual freedom and personal responsibility creates the opportunity for a person to thrive (pursue happiness). Obama’s philosophy was always doomed to fail, because it runs counter to the philosophy that gave us American exceptionalism in the first place.
This is the argument that could lead to a watershed election victory for the Republicans.
After wasting a generation growing government at nearly the same rate as Democrats and failing to defend free market capitalism in the arena of ideas, Republicans can no longer assume the majority of the American people accept the basic premise of their economic arguments. Corporate America itself is no longer a trusted ally in this fight. Banks are now “too big to fail.” Automakers now head to Congress with their business plans in one hand, and an arm extended for a handout in the other. Health insurance companies anxiously await the Obamacare insurance exchange with open arms.
To give Romney the benefit of the doubt, this may be why he is so tepid about real tax and entitlement reform and often gives milquetoast answers on these questions that make conservatives’ collective eyes roll. Either Romney is himself a crony capitalist as many conservatives have feared all along (and to be honest, he has supported some crony capitalism in the past), or perhaps the Romney campaign realizes the American people are not yet ready for the sort of real reform it will take to truly make the country solvent again. If so, then at this point any attempts to have this conversation on a national stage may just end up becoming grist for the Democrat demagogues’ mill. In other words, the political equivalent of tilting at windmills.
But if we are ever going to see the real reform required in this country before it’s too late, at some point we’re going to need to start tilling the soil in the hopes of a future harvest. Right now, Romney has an opportunity to do something no Republican has had a chance to do since Reagan—use the real-time failures of the Left as a means to move the country to the Right.
In 1980, Reagan took full advantage of President Jimmy “Misery Index” Carter’s foibles to make arguments the American people scoffed at less than 20 years beforehand when Barry Goldwater tried them. Goldwater was routed in a laugher by the “great society” welfare state in 1964, but 16 years later it was Reagan who got the last laugh when the bill for all that magical thinking came due.
Similarly, Americans are again learning the harsh lesson that reality bites after decades of guns and butter promises from both Bushes, Bill Clinton, and now Obama. This is why Romney needs to make the case that Obama hasn’t just failed because he wasn’t prepared to lead. Rather, he really failed because what he believes is itself a failure.
Want to overcome the president’s “likeability” factor? Tired of voters making emotion-based decisions, and want them to start thinking critically? Then frame the argument in a way that they have no alternative but to face reality, no matter how grim it may be.
A society simply cannot keep taxing producers to the hilt before their production stops or becomes a loss leader. A society simply cannot keep punishing success and rewarding defeat before it becomes defeated. A society simply cannot have more people that need government to meet their needs than can meet the needs of the government. A society simply cannot keep printing a fiat currency like its running photocopies off a Xerox machine before it deflates its money entirely. A society simply cannot keep subsidizing other people’s poor choices, like financing a college education for a new graduate who has a degree in something there is no job market for, before all those bad investments kill its credit rating. A society simply cannot be a debtor nation, especially when its debtors are also its geo-political competitors.
This model beloved by leftist college professors living in subsidized ivory towers is antithetical to how the real world works. In the real world, human nature is contrary to the utopian schemes of the tenured class of educrats impervious to competition. This, by the way, is exactly who Obama represents. It is his ideological gene pool.
The reason Obama has never moderated on anything as Clinton did on numerous occasions is because Obama is a true ideologue. Clinton was merely a sympathizer, and in the end he was most sympathetic to getting re-elected. Obama, on the other hand, is a true crusader out to make an ideological point come Hell or high water—which gives Romney and the Republicans a chance to do the same.
Romney keeps telling us he’s spent his whole life in the private sector, so we can trust him to fix what’s wrong. But he needs to explain to the American people why what’s wrong is wrong, so that they never fall for the Left’s talking points again. Like when a potential future Democrat opponent tries them on Romney in 2016 should he be elected in 2012. Explain to them this is why France, Spain, and Greece are in such financial peril right now, and that Obama’s policies have us on the same road.
Just telling voters things have gone wrong is only half the battle. The missing link is explaining why things have gone wrong and then explaining why Republican ideas are superior because they are in line with reality.
Romney may still win the election without providing this missing link, but winning is one thing. A mandate is another. If the Republicans want a mandate to truly put the country back on the road to recovery, this is the conversation they need Romney to have with the American people the final few weeks of the campaign.