Well, at least the blue tribe and the red tribe are in violent agreement about something. Both think Mitt Romney made a definitive choice in selecting budget wonk Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) as his running mate. Despite the warts on all the candidates—and the pox that rightly should be visited on both party’s houses for contributing to the fiscal mess we are in—there is near-universal agreement that this election offers Americans the clearest ideological choice since Carter v. Reagan.
Mitt Romney seems be gearing up to run a campaign based on facts and figures. If the successful CEO and the budget committee chairman can just explain the magnitude of the economic tsunami heading our way, maybe voters will wake up in time to let them fix it. The Romney camp promises to reignite economic growth using the same formula Ronald Reagan used to unleash a battered private sector three decades ago, while making painful but necessary adjustments to sacred-cow programs that even the Gipper didn’t dare touch.
Good luck with that.
Most Americans are both innumerate and in denial. First, the average person can’t fathom what $16 trillion in debt means, so what’s the problem with a few trillion more? And second, most people want to be lied to because it makes them feel good. It’s very comforting to believe that the entitlements politicians have promised will be there waiting years from now—all magically paid for by someone else.
Barack Obama, by contrast, appears to be running a campaign based on feelings. Especially negative feelings. If the former community organizer and the 15th-longest serving Senator in history can glue enough fear and loathing to their opponents, maybe the voters will give them another four years despite the dismal economic facts and figures. Stay the course, they counsel, we are not really broke. All we need to do is extract more taxes from the rich so we can make even more public “investments” that will surely pan out over time.
Romney’s problem, and Obama’s opportunity, is that in their hearts, though not in their minds, a large chunk of the American public truly embraces the key tenets of socialism. Americans prefer to brand it using different words, but socialism by any other name still promises a workers’ paradise that will never run out of other people’s money. Seeking to engage voters’ heads with appeals to freedom is a risky strategy, particularly when so many have already decided with their hearts to go for the free lunch.
For example, ask Americans if they value fiscal sustainability and they are all for it. But what does sustainability mean if the numbers don’t add up? Take a look at this six-minute video in which Paul Ryan totally demolishes the false claim that Obamacare will reduce the nations’ overall health care costs. A sixth-grader should be able to understand this. And yet half the nation still says they believe the claims. Does sustainability mean not that a program is built to last but that our enthusiasm for going from crisis to crisis is infinite, always ready to propose another feel-good solution that can only lead to the next crisis? Apparently so.
If Mitt’s campaign really sticks to the high road believing voters are as smart as a sixth grader and no one covers his flanks, America could end up getting what it deserves. Which is a horrifying thought. That leaves it to the Republican Super PACs to dive into the mudslinging game seeking to drive up Obama’s negatives, giving as good as they get with reckless abandon even as comedians from Jon Stewart to The Onion mock the more ridiculous charges being bandied about.
So buckle up as the dirtiest presidential campaign in American history gets even dirtier. This is, oddly enough, why I still believe that the voters will show Obama the door once mud fatigue sinks in and they choose, as Mark Steyn so aptly put it, the “last exit ramp before the death spiral.”
Bill Frezza is a Boston-based writer and venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.