Stanley Kurtz writing at The Corner:
As the Romney campaign sees it, the tiny sliver of remaining undecided voters consists of mildly disillusioned former Obama supporters, or at least voters who personally like Obama. Coaxing these folks to “break up” with their erstwhile beau means not making them feel like they were fools to buy into Obama’s vision to begin with. That cuts against any effort to unmask the president’s overweening leftist ambitions. Let’s just say that the president’s a nice guy who’s in over his head instead.
Okay, but Michelle Obama did a very effective job of pressing undecideds to give her nice-guy another try. And the convention as a whole did a better job of redefining government as nice-guyism writ large than Republicans would like to admit. Charles Krauthammer says that the counter to all this is exposing Obama as “a deeply committed social democrat” using his presidential power to enact the same “ambitious left-wing agenda” he “developed in his youth.” Well, yes. So far as I can tell, however, this sort of argument is the last thing the Romney campaign wants to make right now. Don’t want to drive away that tiny sliver of Obama’s wavering admirers.
I can’t say for certain that Romney’s strategy is wrong. But I do think it’s far riskier than we realize. Treating Obama as a nice guy in over his head, rather than a smart leftist who knows exactly what he’s doing, leaves the Democrats’ bogus narrative about government unanswered. America is changing, and Republicans are naive to rely on the public to simply recognize the problems in the Democrats’ claims without significant help from our nominee.
This is the civilized version of the internet right’s demand that Romney begin to savage Obama by calling him a socialist or communist, and start attacking the president for “taking away our freedoms.” Kurtz actually hits the nail on the head when he says America is changing and that the Democrat’s Santa Claus vision of government is gaining ground. Even if Romney were to point out that Obama’s ideas are liberal dogma going back to the 1960’s, the average voter would shrug his shoulders and say, “So what?” Government as a goody factory is just fine with a growing number of Americans who want their lives made easier by latching on to government programs that promise free or cheap services.
The bulk of government cash no longer goes to what we would define as “the poor.” As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in an essay based on his book, “A Nation of Takers,” it’s the “Middle Class” that is now the greatest beneficiary of entitlements:
According to a Census Bureau data run requested by the Wall Street Journal, just over 49 percent of U.S. households were using at least one government benefit to help support themselves in early 2011 (see Figure 16). This was a tremendous increase over the early 1980s, at which time about 30 percent of households were already estimated to be on at least one of the government’s many benefit programs, although the rise was not entirely uninterrupted. In the late 1990s (in the aftermath of welfare reform and at a time of relatively robust economic growth), the prevalence of benefit recipience declined temporarily before continuing on its further ascent. If the Census Bureau reports that over 49 percent of U.S. households are obtaining at least one government benefit, we can safely say that the true number is actually already well over 50 percent. To put it another way: a majority of homes with voters in them are now applying for and obtaining one or more benefits from U.S. government programs.
The prevalence of entitlement program usage is by no means uniform by age group or ethnicity. Meaningful variations within American society and the public at large are illustrated in Figure 17, Figure 18, and Figure 19. In 2004, according to a study based on CPS data conducted by a researcher at AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), nearly 48 percent of American families were already obtaining at least one government benefit (a somewhat higher level than Census Bureau researchers indicated for 2004 [see Figure 16]). By these numbers, nearly every household (98 percent) with someone sixty-five or older was obtaining at least one benefit, with 95 percent of them obtaining benefits from two programs—generally speaking, Medicare and Social Security / Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI).
Perhaps more striking, though, is the proportion of households with no one sixty-five or older obtaining government benefits: entitlement prevalence for this group was already at 35 percent in the year 2004. Relatively few of these beneficiaries were Social Security / OASI or Medicare cases—and of the rest, only a minority was accounted for by unemployment or disability benefits. The overwhelming majority instead were accounted for by households and families availing themselves of means-tested benefits or antipoverty programs.
Fewer and fewer of us are willing to make self reliance part of our value system. And why should we when one is seen as a chump for not taking what’s being so generously bestowed by government? “Our tax dollars fund these programs so why not take advantage of them?” might be a common justification for grabbing for your share of the goodies, but if that also means trillion dollar deficits, unsustainable levels of debt, and eventual national bankruptcy, one might legitimately inquire, “Who’s the chump now?”
We are not going to grow our way out of this crisis. We are not going to spend our way out of it either. Nor will economic growth alone, or government spending by itself lead to a resurrection of a strong Middle Class. Raising the tax rate on the “rich” won’t fix our budget problems, nor will cutting a trillion dollars from the budget solve our long term spending problems. At bottom, entitlements, the budget, taxes — these are all manifestations of how we define our relationship with government. What do we want from Washington? What can we afford? How much do I want to pay?
Until we answer those questions, a government that leans right or left won’t matter. For it is not in ideology that we will find the answers but in placing more value on our liberty, than on what government can do to make our lives easier.