Saturday, September 29, 2012

Blow One for 'The Gipper': Why 2012 Isn't 1980


Over the next few weeks you will hear an awful lot of Republicans compare 2012 to 1980 as they desperately attempt to paint Barack Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter.  Funny, for a party that has had it up to here with blaming George Bush for the Great Recession of 2008, they can’t seem to stop running against the 39th President.  It’s become a time-honored tradition among the faithful because it gives them permission to worship at the alter of the Great One, the savior of our capitalist system.

Interestingly enough the prevailing logic among many conservatives is that Ronald Reagan inherited a far worse economy from Jimmy Carter than Barack Obama inherited from George Bush. The reason for this specious claim is based on several extremely misleading and highly selective economic indicators, almost all of them having to do with inflation.

True, inflation was considerably higher when Reagan took office – along with corresponding interest rates – but the economy overall was in far better shape from 1980 to 1981 than it was from 2008 to 2009.  That’s not to say that things weren’t bad in 1980, but, so far as anyone has been able to deduce, we were not headed for another Great Depression that year.  All but the most shameless supply-siders will tell you that, absent some form of government intervention, the economy would’ve gone completely off the cliff in 2008.  While it is certainly fair game to question the effectiveness of policies that went into effect afterwards, it is not even remotely reasonable to deny reality simply because it differs with your ideology.  The fact is when you compare all the data, Obama had a far worse crisis on his hands than Reagan had on his.

Most Republicans know this.  That’s why they’ve given up the old “Are you better off” line.  Instead, they’ve accepted as a given that the economy was in pretty bad shape four years ago.  What they maintain is that Obama hasn’t done enough to turn it around; hence the 1980 comparison.

Unfortunately for them that claim, like the one above, is also likely to fail.  The reason is quite simple: 2012 doesn’t even remotely compare to 1980.  Just look at the data below:

Economic Comparison (May 1980 vs. May 2012)

Every single economic indicator, save for nonfarm payrolls, was in the red in 1980.  By comparison, every economic indicator in 2012 is in the black.  Furthermore, the economy was continuing on a dowward spiral in 1980, while in 2012 it continues to improve.  One is certainly entitled to question the robustness of the Obama recovery, but to invoke the spectre of Jimmy Carter and 1980 is laughable.  Most voters know this all too well.  While they may not be satisfied with the progress the economy is making, they are acutely aware of the difference between forward and backward.

But even if one were to be gullible enough to ignore the data, there is an even greater problem that Republicans face with the 1980 / 2012 comparison.  Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney, save for a similar haircut, is certainly no Ronald Reagan.  Even the most partisan of Democrats will admit that by the summer of 1980, Carter looked like a beaten man, while Reagan exuded confidence.  The latter looked far more presidential during the fall campaign, and on election day he routed his opponent in what became for conservatives a watershed moment in political history.

Thirty-two years later the roles are reversed.  Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent, looks far more confident and, yes, comfortable in his role as president.  He’s been tested both by his opponents and even by members of his own party and has emerged out of it a stronger, more determined candidate.  Over the last two and a half years, he has presided over an economy that has netted more than four million new jobs.  The only thing he has in common with Jimmy Carter is his party affiliation.

Meanwhile, his Republican opponent looks more and more like a cross between Ross Perot and Michael Dukakis.  Mitt Romney’s campaign has been sloppy and undisciplined.  His inability to connect with voters and his frequent gaffes have made him the talk of every late night comedian in the country.  If Republicans were looking to make a connection between 2012 and 1980, they appear to have succeeded, though not the way they had hoped for.  As the campaign rapidly draws to a conclusion, it is Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama, who is looking more and more like a beaten man.  Next to Ronald Reagan, Romney looks like a cheap hologram.  And, like all imitations, it is a poor substitute for the real thing.

Time is starting to run out on the Jipper.  He has a little more than a month to reverse his fortunes and stave off what is starting to look more and more like a rout.  For starters, it might be helpful if he and his party finally got it through their collective heads that the Democrat running for reelection this year isn’t Jimmy Carter.   


Link: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/economically-obama-is-no-jimmy-carter/

Friday, September 28, 2012

“It’s Sabatoogee!”

The polls aren’t looking particularly good these days for Mitt Romney.  Already, some pundits are starting to pronounce him as done.  Indeed, the RCP poll shows Barack Obama with 265 electoral votes, only five away from the total needed for victory.  Some conservative writers have even begun writing what might respectfully be called post-mortems, which is a little strange given that the election is still five weeks way.

David Frum attempted to lay the blame not on Romney the man, but rather Romney’s policies: “But if governing-minded Republicans chose the candidate, it was the radical wing of the party that dictated his message - and it's the message that is dragging this campaign down.”

True though that statement may be, it doesn’t begin to get at the heart of the matter.  Mitt Romney’s biggest problem is, well, Mitt Romney.   And while the cynic in me is always a little apprehensive about counting any chickens before they’re hatched, let’s face it.  The former governor of Massachusetts has quite an uphill battle on his hands.  One opinion poll actually has him with a lower favorability rating than George W. Bush.  You know you’re up a creek, politically speaking, when the worst president since Herbert Hoover is beating you.

But if the main-stream media and what’s left of the responsible conservative movement show Obama with a commanding lead, the Right remains, shall we say, skeptical.  To them there is a giant conspiracy underway to make Obama look more popular than he actually is.  They point to the sampling rate of the polls as being overly Democratic and when you factor that in, Romney ends up with a lead in many of the swing states.

Of course there’s only one problem with that logic, aside from the sheer paranoia of it.  There’s absolutely no truth to it. The sampling rate has been fairly consistent in virtually all of the polls throughout the year.  These were the same polls which showed Romney with a slight bump after his convention and, until quite recently, had him ahead in North Carolina and tied with Obama in Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin.  In fact, if you go back several months, the polls showed a fairly tight race between the two candidates. 

So what happened?  Why has Obama pulled away from Romney in the latest polls?  One word: incompetence.  Over the last few weeks, Mitt Romney has had a number of missteps which have showed him in a highly unfavorable light.  The Libyan press conference, the 47% video tape and the ridiculous statement he made about airplane windows that don’t open have revealed a side of Romney that many likely voters find objectionable.  Put simply, he is not looking very presidential and it is becoming painfully obvious to an awful lot of people that maybe this isn’t his true calling.

By comparison, Barack Obama has looked far more consistent and steady.  His campaign has made far fewer mistakes and is a lot more disciplined.  You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that time is starting to run out on Mitt Romney, and the Right knows this full well.  They may be insane, but they know how to read a calendar.

So rather than criticize the worst presidential campaign since, well, the last one, they have decided to go after the bearers of the bad news and blame them for Romney’s failures.  Apparently everybody is out to get Mitt Romney – including, unfortunately, Mitt Romney himself, but that’s another story altogether.  The real reason Obama is ahead in all these polls is because the liberal, elite media want him to be.  Yes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Gallup, Politico, Rasmussen and Fox News are all involved in a giant conspiracy to get the President reelected in November.  Funny, I wasn’t aware how leftist Rasmussen and Fox News had become.  Seems only yesterday both were actively trying their best to defeat Obama and extoll the virtues of Thurston Howell III. But not even the well-known conservative bias of both can deny the painful truth.  Whatever it is that Mitt Romney is selling, the public simply isn’t buying.

The good news for Romney, if you want to be optimistic, is that there is still time for him to repair the image that many voters have of him.  Next week marks the first of three presidential debates.  It deals with domestic policy, which was supposed to be the one strength Romney had.  This may well be the best and last chance he has of being able to revive a campaign that is taking on water faster than the Titanic. 

It’s a long shot, but if he can manage to hold his own and make the case for why he is best suited to run the country for the next four years, those same liberal, elitist polls that show him decidedly behind will start to move back in his direction.  

If he flubs it, well, let’s just be polite and say it’s over.


Links: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/25/it-s-not-you-mitt-it-s-your-message.html

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/general_election_romney_vs_obama-1171.html

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Idiots' Delight

Well it’s that time of the month again, boys and girls, and to be honest, with all that’s been going on – did you here there’s going to be a presidential election in November? – I almost forgot about one of my favorite segments.

As many of you know from reading my blog, I usually try to get at least three nominees each month for the coveted Idiots’ Delight award.  But sometimes fate intervenes and someone steps up to the plate to have one of those 1927 Murderers’ Row moments in the sun.  Such was the case this month.  You might know him as the Republican presidential nominee.  I just call him the gift that keeps on giving.

Without further ado:

Mitt Romney: Just when you thought this dingbat couldn’t stick his foot any further in his mouth, he surprises you and manages to get his whole leg in there.  Over the last few weeks, he’s been a virtual shop of horrors for the GOP.  It was hard to tell which gaffe stood out the most – there were so many of them.  

I was all set to pick the 47% video tape piece, but figured why bother?  That’s already been beaten to death anyway.  Besides, what that tape really revealed wasn’t so much that Romney is an idiot as he is a douchebag.

I was getting despondent when finally, like manna, this little gem dropped down from the heavens.    

“When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no – and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem.”

At first I thought this can’t be real.  Either this was an Onion piece or Romney was simply pulling everyone’s leg trying to be funny.  And then I remembered he has no sense of humor.  But then, as the day wore on, it became obvious this wasn’t a prank, a fake news story, or some morbid attempt at humor.  Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, actually wonders why airplane windows don’t open.

Just think, all throughout the Republican primaries, we thought Romney was the smart one.  For months, the big question on everyone’s mind was whether the presumptive nominee would repeat John McCain’s mistake and choose a Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Worry not, he didn’t. Turns out he IS Sarah Palin!

If you want proof positive that wealth and brains don’t necessarily go hand in hand, you needn’t go any further than this shining example.  Somewhere Ronald Reagan is spinning in his grave.


Link: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=118_1348612290&comments=1

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taking an "Objective" Look at Where We Are

With 45 days to go before the election, I thought I would share some, hopefully, "objective" thoughts on where this campaign is and where it might eventually end up.  Keep in mind, I put the word objective in quotes because it's virtually impossible to be completely objective.  By definition everyone sees things through his or her own prism, and I have no intention of apologizing in advance if some of that objective opinion turns subjective.

I will look at both campaigns and offer a good news, bad news look and then I'll close with my final thoughts. Since Mitt Romney is the challenger, he gets first dibs.

The good news for Mitt Romney is that, even with the most inept campaign imaginable and a personality that would make Al Gore envious, he is still in a virtual dead heat with the President in the national polls.  What that means is that the election is there to be won.  While he trails in most of the swing states, the leads in many of those states are not insurmountable.  There is reason to expect that he can win North Carolina, Florida and at least one of the three Midwest and Southwest states - say Wisconsin and either Colorado or Nevada.  If he picks up Iowa, then he is within a few electoral votes of winning the presidency.  Given what has transpired over the last few weeks, that's nothing short of miraculous.

The bad news for Mitt Romney is that in order to turn around his fortunes, he has to stop looking like the second coming of Gordon Gekko and start relating to people better than he has.  His campaign must stop tripping over itself and looking like some wayward cast from an amateur hour show.  The truth is that, with an economy as weak as this and an incumbent equally vulnerable, Romney, by all accounts, should be ahead in the polls.  The fact that he isn't speaks volumes about him and his message. He simply hasn't closed the deal with the electorate. 

On the other side of the aisle, Barack Obama continues to be the luckiest politician in more than seven decades.  With unemployment hovering at just over 8%, he continues to lead Mitt Romney in virtually every poll except Rasmussen.  He is ahead or tied in almost every swing state and if the election were held today, it is conceivable that he would win reelection handily.  His two biggest assets are his likability among voters who understand that he inherited the worst economy since FDR and an opponent who isn't all that well liked and has run one of the worst campaigns in modern times.

On the flip side, being lucky may not be enough.  The simple truth is that it's Mitt Romney's election to lose.  Despite the fact that he is well on his way to doing just that, most pundits argue - and I tend to agree - that Obama, even with all the job gains of the last two and a half years, does not fare well when the economy is the central issue.  At best he is tied with Romney.  Add to that the fact that there are between 4 and 6 percent of likely voters in the undecided column.  History shows that most undecideds tend to break away from an incumbent 2 to 1.  Translation: if Obama is ahead in say Ohio 48 to 46 percent, Romney could still win that state, albeit by a slight margin. If you look around the country, there are a lot of states where that is the case.  Depending on your opponent to constantly stumble isn't the best strategy for success.

So, that being said, what do both candidates have to do to win the election?

For Mitt Romney to win he has to do three things.  First he has to stop the hemorrhaging.  His campaign must stop handing the Obama team ammunition with which to pummel him with.  Next, he has to stop listening to all the neocons and crazies in his base and come up with one central theme and then stick to it.  Before the wheels came off back in July, everyone assumed Romney would focus strictly on the economy.  Since then he made his ill-fated trip to Europe and Israel, picked Mr. Medicare for a running mate, gave one of the worst foreign policy speeches any candidate could make and then, after getting caught in a candid camera moment expressing his true sentiments about a large percentage of the population, doubled down on those comments and dug the hole deeper.  The primaries are over; it's time to run a general election campaign.  The only chance Mitt Romney has is to make this election about one thing and one thing only.  He has to make it about the economy, stupid.

But then Mitt Romney must do something even harder.  He has to become someone people actually like.  Of all his biggest liabilities, none have plagued him more than the fact that, for all his supposed prowess in financial matters, he comes across as a fraud.  His personal negatives are way too high, even for a Republican.  And even those voters who feel he would do a better job on the economy are put off by a perceived lack of authenticity about him.  He must change this perception if intends on winning.  Maybe he can't become Mr. Congeniality, but Thurston Howell III ain't working either.  

For Barack Obama to win he must hit Mitt Romney with everything including the kitchen sink.  He has to make it abundantly clear that a Romney Administration would be disastrous for the country.  While he can't completely run away from the last four years, he has to connect the dots and make the case that the country IS better off since the collapse of late 2008 and early 2009.  He must utilize every tool in the tool box, including Bill Clinton, who is still the best weapon the Democratic Party has in the tool shed. He must reinforce the threat to Medicare and the looming cuts to middle-class tax deductions that will likely ensue should Romney and the Republicans win in November.  To put it bluntly, he has to borrow a page or two from the Karl Rove play book.  When in doubt, scare the shit out of 'em.  Above all else, the Obama campaign can not allow itself to become complacent over the latest poll numbers. The election is still a month and a half away.  Anything is possible.

So what do I think will happen?  If I knew, I wouldn't be typing this piece, that's for sure.  I'd be in Vegas planning my next villa in southern Europe.  What my gut tells me is pretty much what I have been saying for quite some time.  This will be a very close election.  Both candidates will have their chance to lay out their vision for the country in the upcoming debates in October.  While Obama will have an edge here, Romney will be no slouch.  Let's not forget, he ran against some of the most right-wing ideologues the Republican Party could trot out and prevailed. The litmus test for him will be whether he can rise to the challenge and look presidential outside of his comfort zone, something John McCain was never able to do. If he holds his own against the President, he could manage to do something that heretofore he has been unable to pull off: seal the deal with those still undecideds.  Remember, the conventions are for the base; the debates are for the independents and moderates. 

Yep, October should be one helluva month!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Free Falling? Not Quite



The more I think about The Video involving Mitt Romney and his donors, the more convinced I become that there was nothing all that revelatory about it.  Really, did anything in that video surprise you?  I mean take away the self-righteous contempt for the poor, not to mention the utter ignorance for the facts, and what you’re left with is pretty much what we’ve seen from the Republican Party the last four years.  Shocked?  You shouldn’t be.  In fact, I would’ve been shocked had Romney actually said anything contrary to the established orthodoxy.

Granted, Romney didn’t expect anyone to be recording the event, so he was free to let his hair down and truly speak his mind.  In fact that may be the only news-worthy item to emerge out of this whole affair: that Mitt Romney is a conservative after all.

For months, many among the more pragmatic-progressive contingent had held out some hope that, should Romney win in November, he might be able to govern as a center/right president and, like he did in Massachusetts, reach across the aisle.  This video should put that notion to rest once and for all.  This is who Mitt Romney is and, I suspect, has always been most of his political life.  He was simply playing up to a more Democratic constituency when he was running for office in Massachusetts.  You know the old saying, when in Rome? Make no mistake about it; a President Mitt Romney would act very much like he sounded in that room with those donors.

But, far more than simply damaging, perhaps mortally, Romney’s already beleaguered campaign, the video crystalized for me what the true heart and soul – assuming it has either – of the current GOP is all about.  This is not a Party interested in reforming government to make it more efficient and responsive; this is a Party hell-bent on dismantling and discarding virtually every part of it, save for the military industrial complex, which they will no doubt bulk up as they proceed to reconstitute the Bush doctrine on a global scale.

And while they’re busy gutting the government, along with all those pesky, profit-robbing regulations, they will reward their cronies handsomely with the most grandiose, obscene tax cut imaginable, which they will then attempt to pay for by destroying what’s left of the middle class through the elimination of virtually every tax deduction possible up to and including the federal tax exemption for the working poor, something even Ronald Reagan would’ve railed against.

Just think about it for a moment.  $5 trillion in tax breaks, most of it to the wealthiest individuals in the country, and the elimination of the mortgage interest, charitable and standard deductions.  That is the biggest income redistribution quite possibly in the nation’s history, and all of it upward.  If you don’t think that’s what’s in store for America in a Romney Administration, you weren’t paying very close attention to that video.

This is the war the Republicans have been waging on the middle class and working poor for quite some time.  There’s nothing new here.  Indeed, the comments Romney made about the 47% of people who pay no income taxes have been uttered by other members of his Party over the last several years.  Most of them have flown under the radar, much to the delight of the Republican establishment.  All this video really did was to shine a giant spotlight on the obvious and make a few of the faithful squirm a bit.

Already, Senate candidates in tight races have gone out of their way to distance themselves from Romney’s comments.  Scott Brown, George Allen and Linda McMahon are among the growing contingent of Republicans who are feeling the heat from the fallout of Romney’s moment of transparency.  Moderate conservatives like David Brooks and neocons like William Kristol have publicly blasted Romney for, and I’m quoting the latter, being so “arrogant and stupid.”

Arrogant, yes; stupid, hardly.  If anything, Romney in general and the Republican Party in particular have been quite adept and resourceful.  They have preyed on the fears and frustrations of millions of potential voters for the better part of four years, hoping to cash in and complete the job they started in 2010.  And, if history is any indicator, they may just get their wish.  No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with such woeful employment numbers.  Were it not for the sheer incompetence of his campaign, Mitt Romney might well be enjoying a comfortable lead over Barack Obama.  Something to ponder.

As it is, he is still within striking distance of beating him this November.  I have long felt that the polls, which show Obama ahead both nationally and in most of the swing states, have been somewhat overly optimistic regarding his reelection prospects.  Some project him winning in a landslide.  Some progressives are even starting to sound cocky and are pronouncing Romney as finished.  Such thinking is foolish and premature.

The reality is that this remains, even with all the gaffes, an extremely close race that will go down to the wire.  Given what we know of recent presidential campaigns, there is still plenty of time left for Mitt Romney to right his ship and steam off with a victory.  If George Bush can win reelection, anything is possible.

It comes down to this: the candidate who can best sell his vision for America in the upcoming debates will win, period.  The President needs to definitively prove that Mitt Romney’s 47% comments aren’t just morally wrong, they’re factually wrong, as well.  If you’re part of the middle class or working poor, you better pray he succeeds.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Left Overs

It's been a busy month so far.  I'm still pondering some thoughts on that infamous Romney video tape, which I hope to post soon.  In the meantime, some loose ends that just couldn't wait.


Mitt Romney releases his 2011 tax return and pays 14.1%.  So let me see if I get this straight.  Old Gordo finally ponies up and releases the one tax return everyone in the whole-wide universe knows is going to be squeaky clean - even manages skip a few deductions to make himself look good - and we're all supposed to dry up and go away.  Remember when we all thought Romney was the sane one during the primaries?  Who knew he had such a sense of humor?

Paul Ryan gets booed at an AARP conference.  How naive - or arrogant for that matter - do you have to be to show up at a gathering of senior citizens as the principal architect for the demise of Medicare and then act shocked when you get booed?  Glad to see that bullshit line about how the President is stealing $716 billion from Medicare for Obamacare went over real well too.  And this is suppose to be the intellectual voice of the Republican Party? 

John Boehner announces that GOP won't agree to raise taxes on wealthy if Obama wins reelection.  Okay, repeat after me and altogether now, "No Way!"  I mean, really, imagine Republicans being staunchly opposed to any sign of cooperation, even after a defeat.  It's news to me.

Ann Romney tells Republican critics of her husband's campaign to "Stop It." To quote Danny DeVito from the sitcom Taxi, "Throw me a bar rag."  Somebody has to explain to Imelda Marcus that her "better half" is committing the political equivalent of suicide and who better than his own Party.  Hey Annie, this is the big leagues.  You don't like the heat, tell the domestics to stay the hell out of the kitchen.

Well, that's it for now.  More later.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tip of the Hat

With the release of "The Video" [that's what I'm calling it] it seems everyone is running around trying to put their own take on what impact it will have on the election.  As I see it, it will hurt Mitt Romney, but I still think it'll come down to the debates in October.  What I found interesting wasn't so much the response from the Left, which was expected and predictable, but rather the response from the Right, or at least the moderate Right.  As far as the far Right goes, Mitt Romney finally made his bones.  I'll get around to that in a future piece.

But getting back to the moderate conservatives, or as I like to call them, the sane ones, I was thinking about who would be a good choice for this month's feature.  David Frum was noticeably MIA on the whole thing, which was good because he's had enough free space on this blog.  And then I read David Brooks' piece in The New York Times, which nailed it for me.

Keep in mind, I'm not agreeing with Brooks' underlying premise, just the criticism he has of Romney, which is refreshingly candid.  It's gratifying to know that reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle can agree on what was clearly a crossing of a line.




Thurston Howell Romney


In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent do.

In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge, Eberstadt notes, has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.

There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.

But these are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.

Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?


Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?_r=1&ref=davidbrooks