By happenstance, Mitt Romney has found an effective way of attacking President Obama’s record. Wednesday he tried to embellish on the “redistribution” theme he began the day before:
Romney in the days ahead will need to make two aspects of this argument more understandable for average viewers.
First, he should acknowledge that we do accept some redistribution of wealth via the tax code’s progressivity. He’s said he doesn’t want to change that and will make certain upper-income taxpayers continue to shoulder more of the tax liability than those at the bottom. What he is saying, however, is that the key to enduring prosperity and to upward mobility is not in growing government, adding to the tax burden or providing more benefits to constituent groups. He’s got some powerful evidence that what the president has tried (more debt, regulation, the threat of higher taxes, etc.) has increased poverty, not alleviated it. In moving people into the workforce and allowing them to move up the ladder of success, Romney will need to argue that his agenda (e.g., keeping taxes on small business low, education and training, domestic energy development) is far more effective.
And second, he needs to make a distinction between what we sometimes call the “working poor” and those who, as he put it in the campaign, are looking for free stuff. He should be clear — sorry, Sandra Fluke — that he’s not interested in giving free stuff to the middle class and others who can afford to save, spend and buy things on their own. We have, as Margaret Thatcher said, run out of other people’s money to spend.
In his response to the president’s State of the Union address in January 2011, Paul Ryan had this to say: “We are at a moment, where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked — and it won’t work now.”
He said much the same thing in New Hampshire on Wednesday when he told a crowd: “We believe in a safety net that is there for people who truly cannot help themselves, so they can live a life of dignity. But we also believe in a safety net that is there for people who are down on their luck, so that they can get back on their feet. We don’t want a safety net that encourages more dependency, because there is no economic growth behind it, because what that ends up doing is, it drains people of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives, to tap their potential, to get on their path to prosperity. That unfortunately is what we are seeing in the Obama economy.”
That is the message the Romney-Ryan ticket needs to carry day in and day out: We have a choice between a non-functioning private sector with more beneficiaries or a revived private sector with more contributors. It is a powerful and attractive message, if enunciated clearly.