I want to point your attention to a superb piece in the Wall Street Journal today by Robert Reilly, who served as an aide to Ronald Reagan, titled, “Romney’s Businessman Pitch Won’t Work.”
It’s behind the paywall, but I’m going to quote extensively from it. Please note the donation button over on the right side to help me hire a team of lawyers in case Rupert comes after me.
Here’s an excerpt.
For decades the Republican Party nominated losing candidates—Alf Landon (1936), Wendell Willkie (1940), Thomas Dewey (1944 and 1948)—who presented a résumé boasting nonpolitical accomplishment in business and the professions. More recently, Republicans like Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and John McCain may have been more accomplished in the political realm but all struggled with what Bush 41 famously called the “vision thing.” Time and again, they’ve been defeated by Democrats proclaiming such things as the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society, and “hope and change.”
The Great Communicator Ronald Reagan, who spoke mostly in moral terms, was the magnificent exception. He understood that Washington is not a management problem; it is a political problem. Everything the government does is necessarily political, because governments decide not only who gets what, but why. These choices define a candidate’s politics, but they must be conceived and expressed in terms of moral priorities.
Political language is inherently moral, not managerial. It must convey visions, not just plans. It must explain why some things are good and others bad.
If you cannot articulate the cause for which you are fighting in moral terms, you will lose. Because they cannot do this, businessmen suffer from a sense of illegitimacy when they come to Washington. When your opponents scent this vulnerability, they go in for the kill.
President Obama is expert at deploying moral rhetoric. If his Republican opponent is not equally adept at this, he won’t be able to defeat him. Mr. Romney has showed no talent for this, which is hardly a surprise since little in his background has prepared him for it. He did not exhibit this ability as governor of Massachusetts, where he failed to defend the very principles he now avows regarding such things as the family, abortion and a liberal judiciary.
The United States is not a country based on race, creed or class. Our nationalism is a philosophy, an idea, a moral notion of what it means to be an American. People disagree on what exactly the idea of America is, but they agree it is an idea.
To have resonance with Americans – not just your own base, but all Americans – a candidate has to show he believes in ideas. Americans instinctively respond to someone with a philosophy. The elite class on the East and Left Coasts don’t quite get this, but most Americans do.
And so does the Obama campaign.
Look at what they’re doing, and what they’ve done. President Obama was elected not so much on the theme that he would fix the economy, but on the notion of “hope and change.” Americans won’t get fooled again by the emptiness of something so nebulous, so now the campaign is going straight toward its liberal roots and touting “fairness.” That is, soak the rich and enlarge the welfare state.
Obama doesn’t even justify his new ideas by saying they will improve the economy. He says they are “fair” and “right.” He and his team are betting that a center-right country will be moved enough by ideas, by someone touting a philosophy, that they won’t get too far into what the philosophy actually means, and whether it will really help the economy.
Romney will not win if he counters this by saying, “I’m from Bain Capital, and I’m here to help.” He has to say, “I have some different ideas, another philosophy, and here’s what it is.”
But he can’t. Which is why people are taking another look at Rick Santorum, who can.