Victor Davis Hanson

In the last four years, Obama has made it clear exactly what he meant. Almost half of Americans pay no income taxes, and more people than ever are on food stamps. Government is larger than ever, and more rules regulate business. The president pushed through a takeover of health care that may prove to be the greatest federal entitlement since Social Security. He has borrowed $5 trillion in less than four years in an effort to fund more social services -- a gargantuan debt that he believes will require more taxes on the top brackets to pay back.

Obama editorializes about "fat cat" bankers, "corporate jet owners," those who junket to the Super Bowl or Las Vegas, and those selfish Americans who should take a time out from profiteering, or who do not know when they have already made quite enough money. He believes that Americans are not doing well because a few on top are doing too well -- as the 1 percent shear the other 99 percent of the flock below in a zero-sum economy. Only more noble and competent technocratic officials can ensure that unfettered businesses spread rather than hoard their profits.

Romney will counter that if farmers do not have to worry about new "green" regulations, if oil men can drill on more federal lands, if businessmen know their taxes won't go up, if financiers believe they should make rather than apologize for profits, then more Americans will find work, more oil found will mean cheaper gas for all and business people will win a greater share abroad of the world's trade and commerce.

These are the ancient arguments that once pitted the liberty of the American Revolution against the egalitarianism of the French, the statist visions of John Maynard Keynes against the individualism of Friedrich Hayek, and the tragic admission that we cannot be truly free if we are all forced to end up roughly equal versus the idealism that if we are all roughly equal then we are at last truly free.

In blunter terms, Romney's message is that, if you have the money to drive a nice Kia, what do you care if a sleek Mercedes whizzes by? Obama's answer, in contrast, is that you should care, because the guy in the Mercedes probably took something from you.

The election will hinge upon how many people who can't afford a Kia now believe that they might be able to under Romney -- and who could care less about the other guy in the Mercedes.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.