Grover Norquist emailed me his reaction to Newt Gingrich’s blast on Mitt Romney’s investment income, writing as only he can:
The idea that there is something illegitimate about money earning interest or investing one’s savings expecting a profit was widely held in 13th century Rome. That was not conservatism. It predated free markets, modern economics and a recognition of the time value of money. I am not sure I want to go back to the economic illiteracy of the 13th century or the hate and envy politics of 1950s East Germany.
Moreover, despite both Gingrich’s and the president’s attempt to play up income inequality, the American electorate is stubbornly resistant to the envy game when it comes to their own lives. Gallup reports:
About half (49%) of Americans agree with President Barack Obama’s claim that the U.S. economic system is unfair, while 45% say it is fair. At the same time, 62% say the U.S. economic system is fair to them personally. . . .
Republicans are more likely than independents or Democrats to say the economic system in general is fair, but the party differences are not huge compared with what is typical on other political measures. Four in 10 Democrats say the system is fair, while 42% of Republicans say it is not fair. However, there is even less difference across these three partisan groups when asked about the fairness of the system to them personally, with majorities of each calling it fair.
Gallup isn’t sure Obama’s strategy is going to work in the 2012 election:
All in all, these findings suggest that Obama’s re-election strategy — focusing on an assumption that the U.S. economic system in this country is unfair and needs to be fixed — will unfold in an environment in which many Americans already believe the system is fair.
Going back to Republicans for a moment, a class envy strategy seems absolutely daft. Republicans think the economic system is fair by a 55 percent to 42 percent margin. And when it comes to them personally, 63 percent believe it is fair.
I suppose if Obama were up against someone who shared his class-envy scheme, it might negate any damage the president would do to himself. However, his ploy won’t work if Americans are presented with a positive message of economic opportunity, as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and others have suggested:
The question is, are we giving the country a very specific agenda routed in founding principles, to solve this country’s biggest problem? This is not an ordinary election, Bob. This is, really, a trajectory-determining election. Is America going this way or that way? An opportunity society with a safety net, or a cradle-to-grave welfare state? I mean these are the decisions we’re going to make in the next few years because this debt crisis is right on our horizon. And so we need to have an affirming election, where we give the country specifically who we are, what we intend to do, and if you elect us we’ll do this. That gives us the ability in 2013 to save the country from a debt crisis. That’s how I see it.
Sounds better than 1950s East German-style thinking.
UPDATE (5:15 p.m.) Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Mitt Romney supporter, weighed in as well, e-mailing: “I find it outrageous that someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination would make the same arguments that President Obama uses to vilify private sector success.” She’s got a lot of company in conservative quarters today.