By Barry Rubin
I wrote this article before Mitt Romney made what might be called his first speech directed at the general election (see the end of this article for the link). And I was pleasantly surprised that he seems to be following the strategy I’ve outlined below. It appears that Romney is changing gears after being bland, centrist, and nasty to win the Republican nomination. This is a superb speech full of sharp and clear points, and I urge you to read it. But please do so only after finishing my article that sets a framework for it!
What are the weaknesses of Obamaism that my “Marxist-style” analysis highlighted, and how do they suggest the way in which the presidential and congressional electoral campaigns should be conducted?
- The current policies don’t work for a basic structural reason. You cannot apply highly statist, left-wing socialist policies to the American system and have them work. It is like beating your automobile with a buggy whip to make it go faster or, alternatively, buying a Leaf electric car that is overpriced and doesn’t work very well.
There is no way that Obama’s policies can revive the American economy precisely because they are based on an ideology that doesn’t fit the system it is supposed to govern. And if he’s reelected, things will become far worse. Mitt Romney and others must highlight this total mismatch.
Obama ignores the facts and doubles down on applying failed strategies, as he did by refusing to increase drilling for oil and a pipeline from Canada in the face of high prices or as he continues investing in “green energy” when the green in it is the mold growing on bankrupt facilities.
- The Obama Administration’s philosophy and policies run counter to all previous American thought and practice. Obama can try to find precedents for what he’s doing, but they are few and unpersuasive. When he does come up with something, it is either taken out of context or argued as if the America of today hasn’t changed in a century, with cigar-smoking, top-hatted capitalists oppressing workers who have no unions.
Romney should highlight Obama’s departure from the Constitution and consensus. He is the mainstream candidate; Obama is the extremist.
- Obamaism puts the American system out of balance. There is nothing wrong with having a state capable of balancing big business and the banks from having unbridled power, but that is nowhere close to reality. Instead, the federal government has grown to ridiculous proportions, to the point where it is dictating to society and the individual. Romney should be the candidate of reasonable balance, explaining why the government, taxes, and regulation must be reduced back to reasonable proportions.
- The Obama approach is not some social justice system protecting the masses, but rather the instrument of a privileged class trying to enrich itself and accumulate power. It is a bid for power by wealthy and upper middle class people who benefit from their relationship to the state to enrich themselves, rather than produce jobs, products, and wealth.
They pretend to serve most Americans, but actually steal the property of the people to benefit parasitical crony capitalists and non-productive upper middle class sectors. Romney must show how government programs that pretend to be altruistic are actually forms of greed that hurt the voters.
- Romney needs to wage an old-fashioned anti-Washington campaign against big government, high taxes, and excessive regulation, and against a swollen government full of waste, fraud, and abuse.
When they call him rich, he must respond by calling them arrogant, power-hungry, and liberty-stealing. He must provide case after case of massive government waste and fraud to trash the lie that money to the federal government merely keeps the water and air clean, clothes the poor, and does assorted other good deeds. He and the congressional candidates need to show the waste and corruption involved in funding crony capitalism and the turning of government into a foundation that uses tax money to make left-wing groups rich.
He needs to talk about big cuts in spending as ejecting non-productive — indeed, anti-productive — bureaucrats rather than worthy programs. He needs to expose how institutions like the departments of Energy, Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others are counterproductive.
How should this strategy be implemented? First and most important, Romney and congressional candidates should be aggressive in denouncing Obama policies. Let me put it clearly: Romney must do to Obama what he did to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. If he pulls punches and tries to be too restrained, he will repeat the mistake of John McCain and make a humiliating defeat inevitable.
Second, Romney should not try to get the media or the statist-oriented elite to like him — that’s the kryptonite of the opposition — but should appeal over its head to the people. Nothing Romney can do besides going soft on Obama, minimizing the difference, and ensuring his own defeat will get the media to say anything nice about him.
Third, he needs to build a broad anti-Obama coalition rather than focus on pushing explicitly conservative ideas. The ideas might in fact be conservative, but they are also American, common sense, and pragmatic. The way to win over independents and dissident liberals is to show them how Obamaism is alien to their beliefs and interests. Romney must, in effect, give them an excuse to vote for him by making them horrified by what’s happening to the country.
If this election becomes one of the conservatives versus everyone else, Romney will lose; if it becomes a battle between everyone else and the extreme left, whose ideological experiments are disastrous, then Romney will win.
But if this election becomes one between nice-guy Romney who doesn’t want to offend anyone and tries to downplay distinctions versus an establishment that doesn’t play by the rules and will smear him daily, Romney will lose.
Arguing over whether Romney should be conservative or centrist is irrelevant. The real choice is between his being rousingly populist or boringly managerial. Against Obama, negative campaigning makes sense because the searchlight must be focused on the administration’s terrible record.
The danger is that Romney will go the McCain route. The essence of that strategy, however, isn’t that he would be too “moderate” but that he would be too weak-kneed and would portray his differences with the Obama Administration as being as narrow as possible. I call this the managerial approach. In this concept, Romney assumes that he must win because the economic situation is so bad, and thus avoids hitting out at Obama and merely seeks to prove that he would better manage the state.
In contrast, a tough strategy could also mobilize that group most likely to be responsible for an Obama victory: that small but critical constituency of conservative Republicans and libertarians who claim there is no difference between Obama and Romney. If they stay home or vote for a third party candidate, these purists may irreparably damage America’s future.
And so Romney must respond to attacks like Gingrich or New Jersey governor Chris Christie would do. A gentlemanly, gloves-on strategy will not win this election. This doesn’t mean Romney should call Obama a socialist or Marxist. Instead, he should show that he’s the mainstream candidate while the Obama Administration is out of step with historic, successful American practice. And what’s more mainstream than avoiding out-of-control debt, laying off thousands of bureaucrats, not letting taxes be excessive, not destroying the country’s health and energy systems, and not treading on the rights of Americans?
Is Romney capable of such a response? Will he choose such a strategy? We will see. But here’s an interesting sign: Romney made an excellent speech to the NRA that did focus on the themes I’ve outlined above and had the proper tone. If you read about this speech in the mass media, you’ll get the impression that this was a speech about guns that merely pandered to his audience’s main interest. That’s not true — only about five percent of it was devoted to that issue. Here’s the full text.
And who did he quote to begin it? President Harry Truman.
It was one of Missouri’s greatest sons, Harry Truman, who expressed a guiding conviction that you and I share.
In a ceremony that placed the Constitution and Declaration in the
permanent care of the National Archives, President Truman offered a word
of caution.Liberty, he said, “can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever
comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of
our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.”