The Romney-Ryan campaign is going all in with its critique of President Obama’s dependency society. In a rare memo from campaign manager Matt Rhodes, the campaign tells us:
Mitt Romney’s vision for America is an opportunity society, where free people and free enterprise thrive and success is admired and emulated, not attacked. President Obama’s vision for America is a government-centered society, where government grows bigger and more active, occupying more of our everyday lives.
In a newly-unearthed set of remarks, we can hear Barack Obama in his own words advocating for government as a means to redistribute wealth:
“[T]he trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot.”
Mitt Romney has a very different idea. He knows that we need to foster growth and create wealth, not redistribute wealth, if our economy is to grow the way it has in the past.
We don’t have to look far to see the failure of President Obama’s approach. We can look at his record. First came the stimulus — and nearly a trillion dollars of government spending later, the unemployment rate is almost 3 percentage points higher than where President Obama projected it would be.
Then came Obamacare. Even though it has yet to take effect, businesses are already grappling with the new taxes, regulations, controls, and bureaucracies that are impeding hiring and adding to our uncertainty.
We are experiencing the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. More Americans than ever before are in poverty or on food stamps. President Obama’s government-heavy policies have not worked, and we need a new direction.
The memo goes on to tout Romney’s vision for a society that is not government-centric. (“His plan includes tax relief to spur growth and increase take-home pay, trade policies that allow American companies to compete and win, and a commitment to championing small business as the engine of our economic growth. Policies like these define what an opportunity society is all about.”)
To reinforce the theme, Romney has put out an op-ed in USA Today in which he presents the benefits of his vision: “Efforts that promote hard work and personal responsibility over government dependency make America strong. When the economy is growing and Americans are working, everyone involved has a shared sense of achievement, not to mention the basic sense of pride that comes with the paycheck they earn. However, over the past four years, those kinds of opportunities have been in short supply. We’re experiencing the worst recovery since the Great Depression. Unemployment has been above 8% for 43 straight months; 47 million Americans are on food stamps. Nearly one in six Americans now live in poverty.”
Well, this is certainly finding an opening where you can get it. The Romney-Ryan campaign quite correctly, I think, has seen that while there were certainly problems with how Romney spoke to his donors about the 47 percent, the terrain on which he now finds himself is exceptionally favorable: Are you better off with Obama’s government-centric approach or will you do better under an opportunity society?
Conservatives should be pleased that Romney has finally figured out where to focus his campaign. It has the benefit of turning the race back to Obama’s record. And it is squarely based on mainstream conservative philosophy that government must give space for individuals and free markets to prosper.
Romney will have several challenges.
First, he’s got to make clear, as he did in the USA Today piece, that his message is for everyone and that it offers the best hope for those who are unemployed, dependent on the government and looking to move up the ladder of success. He must separate Obama’s philosophy from some of the people who support the president or are considering supporting him. (Hey, you don’t want to be dependent on government for your future, do you?)
Second, he really does have to connect the dots in explaining why, for example, tax reform helps even people who are currently paying no federal income tax (but do pay the payroll tax and state and local taxes). Tax reform, he needs to explain, encourages investors and employers to plow their capital and efforts into expanding and growing business, which encourage more jobs. His corporate tax plan, especially his territoriality reform, allows companies to bring money back into the United States, where it can be given out to shareholders or reinvested to grow businesses. Tax reform takes capital out of nonproductive shelters and activities and redirects it into the economy, in which everyone, not just the people with high priced-accountants and crony-capitalism connections, can get ahead. He’ll have to do that again and again for his five-point plan so people understand that it is the way out of the economic doldrums.
Third, he needs to push back against the idea that this is all about sending people out to fend for themselves. Not only is he proposing to strengthen the safety net for those who need it, but he should be celebrating and encouraging those institutions (families, churches, neighborhoods, local government) that are critical for a healthy and well-functioning society. Obama wants the “Julia” in his Web video to look to the government; Romney should try to help her — and her family, neighborhood, schools and other mediating institutions — flourish.
And finally, Romney’s campaign might do well to tell his surrogates, staff and supporters to buck up, ignore 90 percent of the media coverage (this is evergreen advice) and hammer his message, not the media narrative. Whatever the question, the answer is: Obama’s way didn’t work, and here’s how the Romney-Ryan plan will.
If he does all that, can he win? Of course. Running a haphazard and often lumbering campaign, he is still locked up nationally and in key battleground states. This clarified message can, if properly executed and accompanied by strong debate outings, put him over the top. Those are big “if’s.” But this is likely the best shot he has.