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2012: Suddenly, A Historic Election? (Walter Russell Mead)
The American Interest ^ | August 12, 2012 | Walter Russell Mead

Posted on 08/12/2012 11:07:57 PM PDT by neverdem

With Governor Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the vague contours of the presidential race have suddenly become sharper. Up until now, partly because Romney’s image has been so fuzzy, we were looking at a referendum on President Obama rather than a clear-cut contest between political philosophies. Now, given Ryan’s prominence as a budget hawk and entitlement reformer, the public has a choice to make.

On the one hand, President Obama and Vice President Biden stand foursquare for the growth of what I’ve been calling the blue social model. In terms of government policy, they want to continue to grow the mix of interventions, guarantees, entitlements and programs that FDR launched in the New Deal, that Lyndon Johnson extended in the Great Society, and that various presidents (of both parties — think of Nixon and the EPA and W and the prescription drug benefit) have extended since.

This is a bolder stance than the Clinton approach. Bill “the era of big government is over” Clinton was a small ‘c’ conservative: he aimed to conserve the bulk of the entitlement state by trimming a few of its less popular features like welfare payments not linked to work. President Obama, who succeeded at passing health care where Clinton failed, has bigger ambitions, and intends to press ahead with the characteristic direction of American politics in the last two thirds of the twentieth century — towards a more powerful, more purposeful and more intrusive federal state.

Beyond that, Obama and Biden will be running on the blue social model as a way of life. The mass production, mass consumption society of Fordist America saw stable employment at good wages for most people in the US. For Obama and Biden, that kind of America is what Frank Fukuyama called the end of history: a relatively egalitarian income distribution, a stable employment picture, defined benefit pension programs for more and more workers, a gradually rising standard of living, more kids spending more years in school from generation to generation and a government of Keynesian macro-economists who keep the economy on an even keel.

For the Obamians, this is the ideal form of society. The apparent creaks and strains of the last thirty years — rising income inequality, stagnating real wages, economic volatility — are the result of policy errors rather than historical forces. Bad, selfish people have dismantled the regulations and controls that kept a healthy middle class economy in place and like Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, reckless rich nincompoops have driven the national economy — and the blue social model — into the ditch. President Obama’s goal is to bring back the good old days, and make them better yet. His methods are classic tools of the progressive movement of the twentieth century and he believes that there is much, much more than government can do to make our country richer and our society more just.

The Republican challengers will be attacking this vision head on. They will be arguing that the blue social model is driving us all into the poorhouse. The costs of the entitlement state are relentlessly escalating. Regulatory capture means that the federal agencies supposed to protect the public from the plutocracy end up serving the plutocracy: crony capitalism rather than enlightened public administration is what happens when the state becomes too powerful and too large. They will be arguing that the way out of our present economic stagnation is to unleash the powers of enterprise and competition.

To President Obama, this sounds like the worst kind of anti-FDR, anti-New Deal reactionary Republicanism — Taft rather than Eisenhower. When the President denounces tax cuts for the rich as “trickle down” economics and as the cause of our problems rather than solutions, he means it. Romney and Ryan, he will charge, want to take us back to the individualistic economics of the Roaring Twenties, policies that in his view were directly responsible for the Great Depression, just as their revival under George W. Bush brought on the Great Recession.

The President will have some strong arguments — and large constituencies, which are very much more useful — on his side. Americans don’t by and large like budget deficits very much, but they are quite fond of entitlement programs. Think of the 19th century, when populist pressure led the government to reduce the price of federal lands until the Homestead Act allowed any American who wanted one to get a free farm. Bad for the budget deficit — especially after the Civil War when the national debt reached astronomical levels — but that had little impact on the voting habits of Americans who wanted free land.

The incumbents will also have a solid majority of the chattering classes and the intelligentsia on their side. Intellectuals (and I suppose that also includes low lifes like bloggers) had a special role in the progressive state. Social scientists and credentialed experts were empowered on the basis of “objective research” to provide policy guidance for the state. The growing federal government hired a lot of white collar college graduates, and even today Washington DC and its suburbs are unusually rich and the median educational level there is unusually high. There will be no shortage of thumb-suckers and chin strokers backing up the president’s talking points and demolishing Romney’s.

There are other constituencies with a stake in the status quo. African-Americans benefit from both government hiring and government spending. There will be farmers who look at Paul Ryan as a possible enemy of the farm subsidies they love so well. There are a significant number of Wall Street interests linked to the state and municipal bond market, to the state pension funds, and to other economic interests that benefit from the entitlement state.

The selection of Paul Ryan unifies the many constituencies of the Democratic Party, and allows its standard bearers to run against what they will portray as a threat to middle class prosperity, economic fairness, racial minorities and both science and reason. On the Democratic side, this is going to be a corker of a campaign: all the tribes will march and all the flags will fly.

But if he unified and energized the Democrats with his pick, Romney also solved two of his own most serious problems. Picking Ryan answers some questions that so far Romney had not been able to address: Who is Mitt Romney and what does he stand for? The answer is that he is a business-oriented, pro-enterprise Republican who stands for limited government, budgetary discipline and entitlement reform. The more Democrats attack the choice of a “radical” running mate, the more they contribute to Romney’s rebranding. Indeed, the more widely Dems denounce Ryan as an extremist, they more they undercut the very telling line of attack that Romney is a man without convictions who will say and do anything to get elected. The more this looks like a gutsy, bold and ideological choice, the more Mitt Romney looks like a bold and principled leader rather than a flip flopping politician. More, as Michael Barone perceptively noted, Romney’s personal experience and skills at Bain involve the kind of numbers-crunching analysis that an election over the financial trajectory of the federal government will involve. Romney hasn’t wanted to talk about being governor of Massachusetts and most Americans don’t have a clear picture of what investment bankers do. That makes him Mr. Nobody from Nowhere — unless the election turns on issues where his experience in turnarounds and financial workouts becomes suddenly relevant.

The choice didn’t just define Romney; it energized the Republican base and did it in a way that works well for the ex-governor. Romney may be socially conservative, but because his personal views are rooted in a religious faith that many of the most zealous Republican social value voters deeply dislike, this connection can never make Republicans fall in love with him. Fiscal conservatism, on the other hand, offers fewer problems. It fits his life story and because he can point to business experience rather than Mormon roots as the ground for his views, he doesn’t turn the base off just when he wants to energize them.

And beyond that, whatever the problems of running against the entitlement state, the country is much more interested in fiscal conservatism than in social conservatism at the moment. A fiscal conservatism campaign has a better shot at independent voters in 2012 than a socially conservative one; the Ryan selection unites the Republican base on the ground most favorable to Romney from both a personal and a political point of view.

Electorally, there is one more way in which the Ryan selection looks smart. Unless the campaign goes very badly awry, Ryan is likely to strengthen the GOP ticket among Catholics and in the Midwest without weakening the GOP hold on the white southern and the Protestant vote. Ryan may not deliver Ohio or even Wisconsin, but his presence makes the ticket more competitive in the region from Iowa to Pennsylvania where the GOP has its biggest hopes for flipping some states.

2012 looks like an election between two united parties who will both be enthusiastic and both be convinced that the fate of the nation hangs on the November result. That’s a good thing, on the whole, for the country. Whatever else can be said about our electoral politics, nobody can argue that they are inconsequential or that real issues have disappeared. This is a serious election about important affairs and the two sides will both be offering a coherent vision of American values that allows voters to make a clear choice.

But if both parties are offering a clear vision of their values, I’m not yet sure that either party has what the voters want most. From the Democrats, they want some idea about how the entitlement state and the blue social model more broadly can actually be preserved. The fiscal trajectory does not look good; how exactly do Democrats plan to pay for all the programs they want to protect and extend?

From the GOP, they want something else. How is this new economy going to work? How will middle class Americans benefit from all these tax and spending cuts? What will the GOP put in place of Obamacare and the current entitlement program? Appeals to capitalist ideology and American exceptionalism are all very well and they will likely hold the GOP base together and deliver high turnout, but to win over swing voters, Romney and Ryan will likely have to come up with a little bit more in the way of showing how Americans can still get the benefits they most want and need from a shrinking and fiscally sustainable federal government.

Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan may or may not help him in the Electoral College. But the selection has made this a better election, clarifying the issues and giving the country something more consequential than attack ads and gaffes to think about. We will have to wait and see whether Governor Romney helped himself with this choice; he has, however, helped the country and that seems like a good start.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Editorial; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: entitlements

1 posted on 08/12/2012 11:08:07 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem
{Clinton} aimed to conserve the bulk of the entitlement state by trimming a few of its less popular features like welfare payments not linked to work.

Stopped reading right here, such an egregious rewrite of history.

William the Impeached had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to sign welfare reform. This knucklehead tries to paint The Bent One as being the progenitor of the thing.

2 posted on 08/13/2012 12:09:37 AM PDT by Old Sarge (We are now officially over the precipice, we just havent struck the ground yet)
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To: neverdem

This will be a historic victory for the Republican Party in that they win a large electoral victory for the White house, and large majorities in the House and Senate. This has not happened in about a hundred years. The battle will be epic and all hands will be needed on deck. I believe the combination of the pro-business programs and pent up demand will put us in good shape for the 2014 elections. It will be a time we conservatives have never experienced. It will be very exciting and definitely historic.

3 posted on 08/13/2012 12:16:08 AM PDT by ynotjjr (Romney/Rubio 2012 It's called the Constitution. Learn it, live it, love it!)
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To: Old Sarge
"{Clinton} aimed to conserve the bulk of the entitlement state by trimming a few of its less popular features like welfare payments not linked to work."

Stopped reading right here...

Wrong move. Clinton knew that he had to at least appear to be moderate, at least after his gun grabbing and Hillarycare flop. He promised to "end wellfare as we know it." The hard left went bananas and threatened him with a reduced voter turnout. Jesse Jackson said, "mend it, don't end it." The law was called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.

4 posted on 08/13/2012 12:56:08 AM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: neverdem
The law was called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act

The law is called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.

5 posted on 08/13/2012 3:19:17 AM PDT by Dixie Yooper (Ephesians 6:11)
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To: ynotjjr

I hope your prediction is correct. I’m not nearly as optimistic as you are. There are so many people receiving government money and so much power in the media to disseminate lies and propaganda and so many opportunities for the demonrats to cheat at the ballot box that I think there is a good chance Romney will lose, no matter what he does.

But I do believe Romney made the right choice, maybe even the best choice, with Paul Ryan. And I do believe that he showed true leadership by making that choice. And I further believe that — despite his past — he even showed true conservatism making that choice.

This is not like McCain picking Palin. McCain picked Palin for show. She was a conservative woman who McCain picked to a) have a woman on his ticket and b) convince the conservatives to vote for him. But from the beginning he planned to muzzle her and only have her symbolically at his side.

Anyone who believes that Romney is doing the same thing with Ryan isn’t just ignorant, they are just plain stupid.

Ryan is just another white guy and if he wasn’t picked for his ideas then he wasn’t picked at all. Every indication is he was picked for his ideas. Every indication is he will be on the team as a team fighter, not as some kind of token.

Romney showed leadership here and only the most stubborn will refuse to see that.

6 posted on 08/13/2012 3:20:03 AM PDT by samtheman (Obama. Mugabe. Chavez. (Obamugavez))
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To: samtheman

I think romney’s advisors sat him down and told him that unless he developed a message or had somebody who did, he was going to lose.. Even during the GOP debates, Romney never had a plan, but would coast in on somebody else’s ideas (me too, I agree with Newt, for example). And he didn’t run “his” businesses single handedly - he was always part of a group of other decision or policy makers.

I even think one of the reasons he was such a liberal in MA is that people are very liberal there, and he wanted to get elected and the best way was to go with the flow.

So I think it’s more self preservation than anything else that got him to pick Ryan.

The big question is, as you say, whether he will treat Ryan the way McCain treated Palin, or whether he will really let him speak, adopt his ideas and support him.

7 posted on 08/13/2012 3:39:46 AM PDT by livius
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To: neverdem

You’re a little on the uptake aren’t you Walt?

8 posted on 08/13/2012 4:10:00 AM PDT by jmaroneps37 (Conservatism is truth. Liberalism is lies.)
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To: samtheman

While a lot of people are now receiving government handouts, and many of them are ne’er-do-wells; a significant amount of them are there because there are no other options.

Romney/Ryan needs to make this about jobs. The facts are:

A. Business recovery is horrible


Obama is not friendly to business


B. Romney is pro-Business


(he must make the argument here, and hammer it home) Romney will get businesses going again

The welfare class that likes the free stuff and doesn’t want that to change, will never vote Republican as long as the democrats promise to keep the gravy train running, even if that means stealing the hard-working folks blind.

On the other hand, there are millions out of work and on assistance who want to have a job—even a career. They are the ones Romney needs to target, over and over again.

They have no HOPE, unless they CHANGE the nations leadership.

9 posted on 08/13/2012 5:08:29 AM PDT by Alas Babylon!
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To: Alas Babylon!

More jobs, more taxpayers, less welfare, less debt. That’s what I’d run on.

10 posted on 08/13/2012 6:00:50 AM PDT by kristinn (Dump the Chump in 2012)
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To: livius
I even think one of the reasons he was such a liberal in MA is that people are very liberal there, and he wanted to get elected and the best way was to go with the flow.

Mitt just stepped into the nomination when Jane Swift was convinced by the party not to run. I don't know what deal Mitt had with the MA GOP, but -- trust me on this -- if Mitt had declared in MA as a conservative, the MA GOP would have recruited and supported a liberal to primary him.

There are plenty of conservatives in MA -- just none of them in the upper reaches of the MA GOP, so we never have a conservative candidate to vote for, and those who are less conservative never get to hear conservative arguments from a MA candidate.

11 posted on 08/13/2012 6:26:34 AM PDT by maryz
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To: maryz; livius; Gay State Conservative
"I even think one of the reasons he was such a liberal in MA is that people are very liberal there, and he wanted to get elected and the best way was to go with the flow."

Livius, I'm inclined to agree with you. Romney could have been just a pol blowing in the winds of MA.

There are plenty of conservatives in MA -- just none of them in the upper reaches of the MA GOP, so we never have a conservative candidate to vote for, and those who are less conservative never get to hear conservative arguments from a MA candidate.

maryz, go check voter registration in MA. I did just after Scott Brown's special election. Rats were just over 38 %. Pubbies were just over 11 %. Independents, known as unaffiliated in MA, were just over 50 %. IMHO, the best that you can get is a small 'l' libertarian that's a fiscal conservative. Good luck hoping that he/she believes in natural law.

12 posted on 08/13/2012 11:36:52 AM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: neverdem
You're assuming that Dem = liberal, Rep = conservative, and Unenrolled = moderate, and that's just not true in MA. I'm Unenrolled myself, because the MA GOP is so despicable.

Our last actually conservative governor was Ed King, in the early 80a I think, and he was a Democrat. Dukakis got him out and took over the party, but the string of GOP governors we've had since Dukakis were, well, much like Romney.

I do have a friend who until he retired had a small business. He was always a registered Independent until that little 3d party called itself the Independent Party, and actual Independents became Unenrolled. The name bothered him -- he said it sounded too much like "Uninterested" -- but he couldn't make himself register as a Republican, because all we get are the bloodless, statist, big business, crony capitalism types (much like Romney), so he changed his registration to Democrat.

Of course, I'm in Boston, and if you need something from a politician or want to complain about something, you're more likely to get a hearing if you're a registered Democrat. And Democratic politics here has historically been more personal than ideological.

The state's a total mess, in no small part because of the practical abdication long ago of the MA GOP. If there's been a significantly conservative GOPer in MA since Calvin Coolidge, I missed it.

13 posted on 08/13/2012 11:57:58 AM PDT by maryz
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To: maryz

I understand. I’m in and from NYC. The GOP in NY behave similarly, but we also have a Conservative Party(CP) here that has some leverage. I switched registration fron the CP to the GOP to vote in NY GOP primaries starting in 2008. I wanted Thompson then, but he dropped out. Romney got my vote in 2008. Newt got my vote in 2012.

14 posted on 08/13/2012 12:20:51 PM PDT by neverdem (Xin loi minh oi)
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To: neverdem

And the national GOP is well on its way to following the MA and NY GOPs! :(

15 posted on 08/13/2012 12:30:45 PM PDT by maryz
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To: ynotjjr

It will be historic, true, but for it to be effective we have to get people back to work, particularly the urban poor. That means welfare reform built around ending teen motherhood, cutting regulatory red tape, and creating a sane tax policy.

If half or more of all Americans have no vested interest in producing, but desire consumption rights, we’re cooked.

16 posted on 08/27/2012 3:49:12 AM PDT by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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