Clash of the ‘ticians 2012

Former Governor of Massachusetts Romney has won the Florida primary. His trip to the nomination appears to be what the French would call a fait accompli. A win is a win, as they say, and this was a huge one. The question is what does this victory say about the Romney campaign in general, and what will it say about the campaign in the general?

It took Romney a ton of money to put what many consider a relatively lackluster group of candidates away in Florida. Estimates have that figure to be roughly sixty-five dollars to one in favor of the former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. A win is a win though, and Romney did what it took to win, but what does a win mean when you have to spend so much money to achieve it? Every time the Yankees won the World Series in the past decade and a half, the underlying story involved the team’s payroll. The underlying story to that underlying story was, what happens when the Yankees run across a team that is able to spend as much as they are? When the Red Sox reached that point, they beat the Yankees as often as they lost to them. The Yankees then lost their mystique. When the Yankees did win the Series, however, there was never a next day, a next opponent. They organized a team to win that year and that year alone. They traded away their farm system for the future, they spent like there was no tomorrow, and they won that year, and they did it year after year, until it caught up to them. If Romney is the Yankees in this scenario, he just won two games, on the road, against the Royals in the Championship Series. (No offense intended to the Gingrich, Santorum and Royals fans, we’re talking money here.) In this money scenario, there are no comparative Red Sox analogies in this politcal season for Romney, nor are there any National League analogies here spending wise, so we won’t go further with the analogy. Suffice it to say, Romney just beat the Royals twice on the road, and in the game of baseball that doesn’t mean a whole lot, unless you spent a whole boat load of money to do it.  The underlying question is what happens when Romney runs into the candidate that has as much money as he does (if not more)?

We shouldn’t take too much away from the money in elections. Money is based upon contributions, and those contributions can only be generated through solid fundraising, and that solid fundraising can only be achieved through a solid foundation placed in the various communities. Romney, and his people, have done a great deal of footwork to set this victory up, just like the Yankees did a lot of work to set up their championship teams. You need money to win, but money alone cannot secure victory. Having said that, Obama and his people have also set up similar foundations in various communities, and he has a mantle for raising money that may exceed even Romney’s.

Where does the campaign go on substance when the money is equal? Where does he go to reach out and identify with the common American? He is going to have to match the positive aspects of what he has to offer Americans combined with an equal measure of negativity toward the past four years of the Obama administration.

The next logical question is, can he go negative on Obama? Going negative on Republicans is easy. There is no downside to it. Media analysts love you for it, Republicans expect it, and it’s seen as a general course of action for most politicians. Going negative on Obama is another matter altogether.

Going negative on Obama’s job performance, or his philosophy, could land you in hip deep water with the media. If you attack Obama personally, the media will attempt to do grave damage to your campaign and to your personal legacy. They will call you a racist, they will demean you, and they will call you unintelligent, closed-minded, and out of touch with the American people. It doesn’t matter what your social status or economic status is, if your political status is Republican, they will find an angle on you. They’ll ask you snarky questions like how much a gallon of milk costs, if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be, and quick, what’s the Bush Doctrine (even though Bush’s Karl Rove admitted that there were four foreign policy initiatives that couldn’t been called doctrines, but none of them were).  Then, they will turn to Obama and ask him about his kids, his favorite bunny story, and quick, “are Republicans uninformed, out of touch, or irresponsible?”  The mainstream media will not give you an even shake, and they may never be fair to you if you’re a Republican, but they will savage you if you go negative on Obama.

If Romney does decide to go negative on Obama, and some would say he’s already started down that road, what does he go negative with? As Jeffrey Jones of the Gallup organization points out, there is plenty of material:

“The historically high gap between partisans’ job approval ratings of Barack Obama continued during Obama’s third year in office, with an average of 80 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans approving of the job he was doing… The 68-point gap between partisans’ approval ratings of Obama last year is nine points higher than that for any other president’s third year.” Obama, by the way, holds the record for the most polarized first and second years in office, too. This means Obama has set a record for polarization every year he’s been in office.”

Some would say that this divide is based solely on the uncompromising and partisan hatred of those rascally Republicans.  Rush Limbaugh came out (pre-inauguration) and said, “I hope he (Obama) fails,” but everyone from Lindsay Graham to John McCain to Newt Gingrich disavowed this sentiment and said, “We need to work with this president.” They were motivated by love of country, they said. “Regardless who leads this country, it’s important that we work with them to see to it that America succeeds,” Newt Gingrich said. Minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, then said the words that Democrats cite as evidence to the fact that Republicans were never willing to work with Obama when he said, “My single, most important job is to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.” Well, Republicans would say that that is his job as a Republican leader. I’m sure McConnell meant this in the same manner then Democrat minority leader Daschle meant it with George W. Bush; and in the manner George Mitchell did with George H.W. Bush; and in the manner Tip O’Neill did against Ronald Reagan. It’s called opposition politics, look it up, it’s been around for a while.

Some of us agreed with Rush Limbaugh and McConnell, but we were in the minority. Some of us heard the soaring Obama rhetoric and heard it for what it was. We heard his rhetoric in the same vein most hear music. A well-crafted song will appeal to men and women across the spectrums of society. Some gay and bisexual lyricists have written some of the most beautiful love songs ever written, for example, but they did it without gender specifics. They were still great love songs, but they were meant to appeal to people of all sexual persuasions. Obama accomplished this same feat in his campaign speeches, and he did it so well that Republicans and Democrats swooned. He sang a song people could believe in. He sang a song of hope and change. His lyrics included words that suggested that Obama would end the politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He sang that he would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on a stage in Grant Park on the night of his election, “especially when we disagree.”

Three years later, we have what Jeffrey Jones points out is an historically divisive president who only reaches across the aisle to hand the other side his agenda. Then when the other side doesn’t completely concede to his vision and agenda, he calls them names. He shut the doors on them when he could pass legislation without them, he told them “I won” when they asked him to compromise, and he now goes behind their back when they fail to act on his threats and vituperation. This, from the man who as a candidate said, “The time has come to set aside childish things.”

His childish rhetoric and bickering have led to what many have called a weak economic recovery. We need a kick start, a bump, or a right cross to the jaw that wakes us up and gets us competitive again. We need less partisanship and more statesmanship; we need legislative leadership not rhetorical grandstanding and division. Obama used his State of the Union speech to rail on about fairness, inequality and redistribution. He laid out his strategy, and it was simple: tax the rich, because they don’t pay enough.

A 15% tax hike proposal on capital gains is what we got out of the State of the Union. Obama called it a tax on millionaires, he called it the Buffet rule. It’s a tax on investment, what some have called the seed corn of our nation. “You can’t have successful capitalism without capital,” Jack Kemp once said. Obama would call an idea like that, an example of failed ideas and policies of the past.

Obama would much rather dive into his failed policies of the present, his bag of Keynesian tricks, to kick start the economy. Thus far, three years in, we’ve had an $800 billion government spending package, a $2 trillion Federal Reserve balance sheet expansion, a zero Fed interest rate (for three years and counting) and a whole bunch of temporary and targeted tax cuts. All of this has achieved a growth rate of 2.4%. Reagan’s “failed policies of the past” produced a 6% growth rate. On a side note, issued to illustrate how paltry the Obama recovery rate has been, the recovery rate after WWII was 4.6%. His policies haven’t worked, but that hasn’t stopped him. Whether you love him or hate him, you have to give him points for stick-to-itiveness. He’s a true believer. Even if it doesn’t work, Obama will try, try, and try again, until it does. As opposed to a recent Italian cruise captain, Obama is fully prepared to go down with this ship. It’s all there for you Mitt, if you want it badly enough. If you’re willing and able to whether the storm and avoid McCain’s self-imposed trap of trying to run a nice campaign where people like you when it’s all said and done. Some of the times you have to throw at their best hitter to get there, and some of the times you have to slide into second, cleats up, to show your desire. You may receive some negative press for doing this, of course, but at the end of the day a win is a win.

It’s all coming to a head in a political battle that is sure to be one of the nastiest of all time. One man finally appears ready to get nasty to win the most powerful position in the world, and the other hasn’t won an election without getting nasty and personal. One man is as close to a pure capitalist as we’ve seen in 25 years, the other is as far from a pure capitalist as we’ve seen in 32 years. It will be the philosophical battle that pits the big-government, entitlement society versus small government, laissez faire government. It will be the teachings and philosophies of Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, and Thomas Sowell versus those of John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, and Paul Krugman. It will be awesome political theater to those political junkies who follow this stuff on a daily basis.

For others who, hard as they try, can’t help but be affected by decisions made in Washington, this will be a referendum on the past threee years. It will be a time for reflection, a time to look into the past to see what’s coming in the future…unshackled, as it will be, from the fears of losing a re-election bid. For these people, it won’t matter what Romney does, for he will be judged as the alternative to Obama. It won’t matter what Romney says, for they will be reflecting on the last four years of Obama when they cast their ballot. It won’t even matter what Obama does or says, for as hard as he tries to avoid it, this election will be about Obama. Neither of them will be able to escape the American public reflecting on the last four years and the shadow it casts on the future. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “There comes a time in everyone’s life when they need to reflect, and reflection can be loud at times. It can be ugly, and it can have you thrashing about in frustration. It can get so loud, at times, that even the deaf can hear it.”



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