As the campaign accelerates, the issue of Mitt Romney’s electability — a major reason many assert for why he should be the candidate — is being threatened by his tin ear, exemplified with his latest gaffe of beginning a sentence by telling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” One can already see the Democrat ads after Labor Day: soundbites of Mitt offering to bet $10,000, of saying that he likes to fire people, etc. Yes, they will all be out of context, but as Obama wages a campaign as a born-again populist, they will have an effect.
The problem for Romney is that he obviously has not thought on a serious level about how to make the case for conservative economic and social policies.
Someone on his staff should give him some recent issues of National Affairs, in which he can read scores of articles such as Ryan Messmore’s “Justice, Inequality and the Poor,” which actually addresses the issue of income inequality and suggests just how conservatives should deal with it.
Instead, Romney opens himself up to forthcoming major attacks from both centrists and the left wing of the Democrat Party and alienates himself from precisely those Reagan Democrats who at present polls show do not trust him. In The New Republic today, Jonathan Cohn makes the intelligent leftist case against Romney, arguing that while Romney says a safety net exists for the poor but if there are holes in it that need to be fixed he will, the real problem is that the safety net does not do the job. Cohn argues that hardship is much more extensive than Romney thinks, and that Romney has to understand that the vast public wants government to:
… provide college loans, public schools, and Medicare and Medicaid, just to name a few well-known services. (If you don’t think Medicaid helps the middle class, go visit a nursing home and ask how many residents have children in the middle class, who, if not for Medicaid, would be paying for their parents’ care out of their own pockets.)
Cohn does not address how Medicare and Medicaid can continue to function without bankrupting our entire nation, something liberals and the left never find time to address. But his article provides a taste of what arguments Obama will make when the campaign is on, and Mitt Romney has to be able to respond effectively. One short response appears in the Weekly Standard by John Mccormack, who writes that Romney’s response is:
… also un-conservative. The standard conservative argument is that a conservative economic agenda will help everyone. For the poor, that means getting as many as possible back on their feet and working rather than languishing as wards of the welfare state … [and that Medicaid is a] dysfunctional system because of federal regulation.
The issue is what Mccormack calls “runaway spending,” which endangers the viability of the actual existing safety net, and that one has to be anti-debt to be anti-poverty, a point regularly made by Paul Ryan. These points, however, do not satisfy liberals like Jonathan Cohn, who simply insist the answer is more expensive and substantive new government programs.