By JR on Friday, January 20, 2012
There are a few things Mitt Romney needs to do in order to energize the Republican base -- and, not coincidentally, define the debate over his record as a businessman that will be the subject of harsh criticism from the President and his allies.
First, he needs to make clear what the choices are. As Donald Luskin points out in a brilliant piece in today's Wall Street Journal, capitalism is really about freedom (cf Milton Friedman). Contrary to the President's view, it's not about leaving people to "fend for themselves" -- it's about trusting that people are smart enough and capable enough to make better choices for themselves than big, intrusive government can make for them. It's about leaving people free to have an opportunity to use their God-given talents to make of their life what they will, without constant government interference.
Obviously, there is always a balance that must be struck between freedom and "equality" (or "security"). Of course, we must do for those who truly cannot do for themselves. We are a compassionate country, and no one wants to change that. But the President has gotten the balance wrong. What he seems to forget -- and what Romney must remind him, and Americans generally -- is that we DO do for others, but that government isn't always the best (or only) agent of help. In fact, sometimes (not always, but sometimes), people are helped more effectively through the operation of the free market than through mandates from government bureaucrats.
What Americans need to understand is that every effort to insulate every American (or American business) from the possibility of failure comes at a price. The price is economic growth, opportunity and personal responsibility. Are there bad, greedy people in business? Absolutely. But there are bad, greedy people in government, too. That's the human condition in a fallen world. And working for the government doesn't automatically make you virtuous, any more than working in the private sector makes you evil.
Second, Romney has to stop worrying about the fact that he's rich. It fits with the story of opportunity that he's telling. His father was born in humble circumstances and didn't even finish college. His wife has roots in a humble Welsh mining village. He has worked hard for his money and should explain that his story (and theirs, and the President's, for that matter) is only possible in a land of opportunity.
In fact, it's wrong for those who have already "made it" -- like the President and First Lady -- to deny all credit to America for their opportunities. It's wrong for them, and people like them, to decide instead that their accomplishments are uniquely theirs (because of their superior intellect or whatever) and then use those positions to reduce the opportunities for those who come after them, in the name of supposedly "helping" others. And make no mistake: Every time achievement is penalized -- and those who succeed are denigrated -- it sends a message and it reduces opportunity.
Contrary to what the President, Occupy Wall Street (and, sadly, some Republican presidential candidates) would have us believe, as long as it's done honestly, there's nothing wrong with earning money. In fact, it's the money that people like Mitt Romney have earned that allow people like Barack Obama the luxury of "spread[ing] the wealth around." Big government types should be thanking the rich, not demonizing them.
In the end, the election is about one thing: Opportunity and freedom vs. government control and stagnation. It's about whether Americans want a President who wants the government to give them a fish (at least until the country goes bankrupt) -- or one who wants to help create the conditions where Americans can fish for themselves, for life. Let's hope Romney says so, without apology.