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Mitt’s Problem, Pt. 2: It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid

by Keith Koffler on February 8, 2012, 11:55 am

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.

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Just2old February 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Obama speaks in platitudes and undefinable slogans (hope and change).

Time for a President Reagan quote:
January 20, 1981 — from his first inaugural address

“It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. This Administration’s objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy. “

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Just2old February 8, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I think this is the kind of dialogue Keith was alluding to…

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TheReader February 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Note an important distinction: your quote is an inaugural address; Keith is talking about campaigns.

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MaryOhSoContrary February 8, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Rick Santorum was my Congressman, campaigned his first election in the District like he did in Iowa-little gatherings, door to door getting signatures. He became my Senator…and I hope President. I can say unequivocally that he has NOT changed his positions on core issues-he is rock solid consistant in his beliefs. No finger in the wind politico. And, given the serious threats in the world today, I can say the first time I heard (read) of Jihadists threats was from a Rep. Santorum Congressional newsletter.

Real deal. Not the empty suit _resident.

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Susan February 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Thank you for sharing your experience with Rick Santorum. Helps me to see him in another light, not just the image of a social conservative the press is pushing.

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srdem65 February 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm

That’s an interesting theory. But, the theory only works if things are the same as in the past, and they’re not. We don’t just have the talking heads of NBC or CBS to give us the news they want us to know, now we have a hundred different news disseminators that tell us what we need to know.
The electorate is concerned with the economy, the national debt, the socialistic or smothering legislation and our enemies that have vowed to destory us.
We don’t want to hear “fair” or have our President tell us that we’re responsible for everyone and everything while he’s insulting our values and religious beliefs.
We’re not racist if we don’t want MrObama’s vision of America to be the only one that counts.

No other President has derided or deameaned the people as MrObama and his minions have done in the last 3 years. No other President has bowed down to any other foreign leader or apologized for anything that America has done.
This campaign isn’t about the best idea or slogan; it’s all about restoring Ameican pride and who best will do that for us.

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Susan February 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Bravo srdem. You are spot on.

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Sadie February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm

“…it’s all about restoring Ameican pride and who best will do that for us.”

Unfortunately we have Ruth Ginsberg who thinks the Canadian or S. African constitutions are “better” and a president who finds the Founding Fathers impede his agenda. Ginsberg is more than old enough to be Obama’s mother (there’s a thought). My point is that the skewered thinking permeates several generations on the Left and as the article in the WSJ points out, the GOP skewers itself. There are progressives on both sides of the aisle – some pronounce their idealogies and some don’t. It sure feels like we’re being scre(k)ewed with our clothes on.

We’ve got nine months to give birth to a nation we can live with. I hardily suggest that we have surrogate parents (the States) ready for back-up and that means electing responsible adults to off-set the out of control children currently running the American household.

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Keith Koffler February 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Fair enough, srdem, good points. But I think if the GOP candidate can’t stir some passion, whether Romney or Santorum, he’s going to have it very rough against a candidate who is. The economy was improving by Election Day 1992 and voters threw HW out anyway.

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Star February 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

As for this “Half Time” crap–does that mean we are halfway over as a country… If people really believe sloganeering is the deal here, then this means words matter and that means demeaning the Rep choices will cripple them–voila, four more years of this nonsense. Oh, well, I have had my say–when we get a nominee, I will do anything to boost him…or at least revive him from the thrashing of his own party.,

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Rick February 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Keith, thanks for 2 great pieces. Getting these type of issues out on the table now might just save the election for the GOP.

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Star February 9, 2012 at 9:41 am

Oh–is that the idea here?

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Keith Koffler February 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

No Star, the idea is to provide my readers with as accurate a take as I can on what I perceive is going on. Information is not to be feared. The intent is not to make any candidate stronger, but as Rick suggests, it will end up doing so.

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Keith Koffler February 9, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Thanks Rick.

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rulierose February 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm

“But [Romney] can’t. Which is why people are taking another look at Rick Santorum, who can.”

unfortunately, there’s something Rick Santorum can’t do, and that’s beat Barack Obama. living and working in a college town, I know mostly liberals, and I can guarantee you that the moderates who might consider voting for Romney if they get disgusted enough with Obama would NEVER vote for Santorum.

I should also say that my fellow Jewish American voters are also deeply suspicious of him and would also not vote for him. and I think a large percentage of them WOULD vote for Romney, who is perceived as a “reasonable Republican” and not “a crazy right-winger.”

you social conservatives need to understand that we have bigger fish to fry right now. I sincerely believe the future of our country depends on getting Obama out of office! can you imagine the damage a lame-duck Obama would do to America and to Israel?

we’ve got to unite behind someone, and let’s face it, it’s gonna be Romney.

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