Mitt Romney has been on a roll since he took on President Obama for his “you didn’t build that” speech. Thursday, he was in Massachusetts, and his campaign was anxious to provide this clip from his remarks to the media:
The remarks which followed that section of the speech showed that Romney is using the opening given to him to carve out a rationale for his campaign. He was clearly animated as he tore into the president:
The president does in fact believe that people who build enterprises like this really are not responsible for it, but in fact it is a collective success of the whole society that somehow builds enterprises like this. In my view, we ought to – have to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ other people. The president by the way in his remarks went on not just to talk about if you have a business you didn’t build it, he went on to talk about other measures of success. He said if you think are smart, well there are a lot of other smart people. And if you think you are working hard, there are a lot of other hard working people. Where was he going with that? What’s he trying to say? That we don’t celebrate and reward success and achievement? My own view is if you attack success you will continue to see what we have seen over these last three and a half years, which is less success.
While Obama has been intent on painting Romney as a 21st century robber baron, Romney is aligning Obama’s philosophy with the mentality of failed Western European social democracies, which, wouldn’t you know, are teetering on the brink of collapse. The message is one Romney can stick with during the remainder of the campaign because it serves multiple purposes.
To begin with, Romney, who has been accused of telling voters what they want to hear, plainly (and maybe for the first time) is telling them what he fervently believes. He saw his father succeed in the private sector and he did as well. I can’t help but think that he takes Obama’s slam personally, an attempt to denigrate both George and Mitt Romney’s success along with the rest of the private sector. In other words, Romney has figured out why he wants to be president and what he has in common with ordinary voters — the philosophy of personal achievement and the vision of America as a place where you can invent or reinvent your life.
Second, it adds a moral dimension to his campaign that doesn’t offend nonreligious voters. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote in the Financial Times yesterday:
. Free enterprise is about more than material riches. It incorporates moral truths about personal dignity, equal opportunity, job security, ending poverty and dependency, increasing upward mobility, and taking responsibility for self and family. The Republican party has recommitted itself to these principles and promoted ideas that meet the magnitude of continued economic hardships and real anxiety about the future. Advanced with clarity and conviction, our reforms are reassuring precisely because they are so bold.
That message could potentially appeal to the entire electorate, not just Christian conservatives.
Third, it encompasses Romney’s attack on Obamacare (without getting into the weeds of “Did Obama break his promise not to ‘tax’ the middle class?”). The recent polling shows Obamacare still to be unpopular. The problem, or one of the problems with the law, Romney will argue is that it deprives Americans of too much freedom and unwisely strips them of responsibility for their own health care. (Ryan hit this point as well by taking on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which he wrote amounts to “empowering a newly created board of 15 ‘experts’ to cut Medicare through arbitrary price controls for providers that will result in restricted access for senior citizens. Instead of putting 15 bureaucrats in charge, our reforms empower senior citizens to control their health-care decisions.”)
And finally, the message has the benefit of being true. Obama does see government as a central force in people’s lives, does want more resources in the public sector, does see regulations (be they from the Environmental Protection Agency or Dodd-Frank) as unalloyed positive forces and does have a vision of the economy as a zero-sum game wherein the rich are getting rich at everyone else’s expense. There is no use denying his own vision even if he wanted to since it has been woven into nearly every speech and policy position he has taken. Moreover, the voters whose support he needs to win believe in this philosophy and won’t turn out for Obama if he’s simply going to be Romney-lite.
It’s taken two campaigns and the most radical president in American history to pull out of Romney his political vision and passion. Fortunately for him, it is one that can, if executed well, sweep in Tea Partyers, small business leaders, upscale suburban voters and true centrists (who can be persuaded Obama has gone too far down the statist road). It has also lit up the conservative base, which is now convinced capitalism hangs the balance. Is it enough, together with a faltering economy, to put Romney in the White House? We’ll find out.