In the wake of Mitt Romney’s victory in the Florida Primary, the big story has been the Mittster’s ill-conceived comments yesterday in which he said to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, paraphrasing, that he didn’t worry about the poor since they have a safety net or something. Most of the attention on his remarks has focused on the fodder this will provide to Obama’s upcoming billion dollar negative campaign, and there’s no doubt Team Obama is already using this material to cut ads depicting Romney as an out of touch country club Republican who doesn’t worry about the poor and likes to fire people.
Romney, of course, is today whining that CNN and the rest of the media took his comments out of context in order to alienate Democrat voters. Notwithstanding the irony of having the guy who just spent millions of dollars in Florida taking Newt Gingrich out of context, who cares? If he’s worried about being taken out of contest, perhaps he shouldn’t have said something that begs to be, um, taken out of context.
But, for me, the fact that his comments will get him in trouble with Democrats is irrelevant. Despite the assurances of the Republican Establishment that Mitt can get moderates and liberals to vote for him, he can’t. At least not in significant enough numbers to matter. If offered a choice between Democrat and Democrat Lite, they’ll go with the Democrat every time. What really struck me about Romney’s remarks, though, is that they’ll further alienate conservatives who are already deeply suspicious of the Mittster.
I say this for two reasons. First, in trying to justify his comments, Romney’s suggested the social safety net needed to be strengthened. This should be alarming to all conservatives. The social safety net has become a way of life for far too many people. One half of Americans pay no income taxes. The percentage of Americans on food stamps is at a record level under Obama. Jim DeMint notes "we’re at a point in America where about half of the people are getting something from government, and the other half are paying for it." And Romney is suggesting that we’re not doing enough? Leaving aside the fact that we’re broke and can’t afford to throw any more money at these failed programs, how is creating more dependency a good thing? How is this a conservative idea?
I submit that it’s anything but. It’s Democrats who believe that a society’s compassion is measured by how many people are benefitting from government programs. Conservatives believe that this fosters dependence and destroys the potential of millions of Americans by convincing them they can’t succeed without a government handout, so they don’t even try. Who knows, one of these people, if they were properly motivated, could be the individual who comes up with that elusive green energy source which supplants fossil fuels that liberals are so interested in. But we’ll never know, will we?
The true measure of a society’s compassion is measured not by how many people are dependent on the government “safety net”, but by how many people don’t need it. The so-called safety net has been an abject failure and created a growing sub-class of Americans who will never share in the American Dream. And, to a significant degree, the safety net has become a recruiting tool for Democrat voters, as its practical effect is to create an ever-increasing number of Americans who are dependent on government and, thus, dependent on the party of government.
This is tragic, and America can’t survive if it continues much longer. Merely trying to strengthen the current system with a little technocratic tinkering around the edges won’t change anything. This abomination needs to be torn out by the roots and completely revamped into a system that encourages productive behavior rather than sloth. Romney’s comments yesterday illustrate that this fundamental conservative belief eludes him utterly. I can only conclude it’s because he doesn’t share it.
The second problem with Romney’s comments goes to the heart of why conservatives find it impossible to believe him when he claims to be one of them. Yesterday’s remark that he doesn’t worry about the poor or the rich, only the middle class, set off a very loud alarm bell. Conservatives simply don’t think this way.
Conservative ideas, when implemented, will benefit everyone, not just a certain class of people who happen to be in the government’s good graces at the moment. Since when is it conservative doctrine to divide people by income? Or anything else, for that matter (e.g. race, religion, ethnic heritage, etc.)? Shouldn’t the Republican candidate want to enact policies (consistent with the constitution) that benefit everyone, regardless of any of the above irrelevancies? I thought it was only Democrats who thought this way.
But Romney clearly does. Even the tax reform proposals in his silly 59-point plan were largely segregated by income level which, the Wall Street Journal notes, “eviscerates most of the tax cut’s economic impact and also suggests that he’s afraid of Mr. Obama’s class warfare rhetoric”. Indeed. This suggests to me that he at least partially accepts Obama’s contention that tax law should be less about raising revenue than redistributing it. This is not conservative.
Last night on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer suggested that Romney’s inability to avoid stepping in it when discussing issues elemental to conservatives is likely due to the fact that he only recently began calling himself a conservative, and therefore doesn’t possess enough understanding of them to be "fluent":
Via The Right Scoop, the last word goes to Mark Levin, who makes many of the above points and then some, as only he can. Click the image to watch:
Update: Steve Hayes at The Weekly Standard makes some of the points I made above (emphasis mine):
But in many respects Romney’s words are more problematic because of their context. He seemed to consign the poor to a station in life. He suggested that society has done its duty because of the fact that “we have a safety net.”
In so doing, Romney seemed utterly unaware of a long strain of conservative thought on the morality of capitalism. He seemed oblivious to the argument?—?central to the conservative movement?—?that free markets allow the poor to transcend their position, that poverty is not destiny. He seemed not to realize that the “safety net” does not allow policymakers to “focus” elsewhere, but requires them to fashion policies to reduce the need for such programs.
Romney has had trouble connecting with conservatives because many of them believe his conservatism is clinical, not visceral. They worry that he has learned conservative arguments in order to become the Republican nominee, not because he has been drawn to conservative ideas for their own sake.