Our large cruise ship sailed within view of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a gathering of conservatives sponsored by National Review magazine considered the wreckage of the 2012 election. Most of the writers and commentators on board agreed with Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition that the last thing conservatives need to do now is to form a "circular firing squad." But lessons must be learned.
Was Mitt Romney, as some suggested, "our best foot forward" -- a highly intelligent, photogenic, generous, public-spirited, articulate man of great integrity whose loss can only be chalked up to the poor judgment of 2012's voters? Or was he, as Midge Decter described him, "the sort of person you'd love to have as your next door neighbor," but who couldn't inspire political passion?
Certainly Romney lacked the common touch. Exit polls showed that voters gave him high marks for "leadership" and for having a vision for the future. Yet on the question "cares about the problems of people like me," he was crushed by 81 to 18. Even Republican-leaning voters were influenced. The secretly recorded "47 percent" video will likely go down in history as the most consequential tape since Watergate -- sealing as it did Romney's image (already unscrupulously distorted by the Obama team) as a cold elitist.
The Romney campaign, moreover, seemed dazed and deflated by the 47 percent episode, unable to recover and offer damage control. Romney might have responded, for example, with a speech emphasizing that in Obama's economy, dependence on Food Stamps and disability insurance had reached all-time highs, while good jobs with benefits were disappearing. Or he might have showcased actual Americans who got off welfare due to the business promotion of Bain Capital. Surely among the thousands of employees of Office Depot and Staples, some could be found who fit that profile.
Democrats, many in attendance on the NR cruise, noted bitterly, suffer no penalty for being wealthy. Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Obama himself, among many others, aren't penalized politically for being rich because they favor broadly redistributionist policies. There are two ironies here. First, the very rich, which includes all the previously named, along with Warren Buffett, who did so much to propagate the falsehood that "the rich" pay fewer taxes than their secretaries, can easily afford an increase in tax rates. But the definition of those who must, to satisfy Mr. Obama's sense of "fairness," surrender more of their incomes, includes everyone earning more than $200,000. For them, a tax increase can be personally painful, especially if they have children in college.
The deeper irony, however, was touched on by National Review's Jay Nordlinger, namely that the redistributionist policies so beloved of Democrats actually make the middle class poorer. The rich don't need better jobs, schools that actually teach and Social Security and Medicare that do not go bankrupt. The Kennedys of this world don't send their kids to the neighborhood school or look for work at the oil and gas company in town. The reforms so essential to the well-being of the broad middle-class in America were championed by Romney and Ryan. Obama stood firmly against reform and for a status quo that already has diminished the welfare of the poor and middle class and threatens to further immiserate the nation.
"Was Romney a throwback to another era?" one panelist asked. Too reticent and dignified for the emotionally exhibitionistic world we inhabit? It's possible, and no political party that fails to change with the times will survive. But Romney's reluctance to offer arguments instead of personal credentials ("I'm a business guy.") was probably more important.
Conservatives and Republicans do not object to tax increases because they favor the rich, but because they believe strongly that the government already spends way too much. The election has settled the issue, for now, in Obama's favor. Republicans who still hold national power in the House might want to consider one idea that will help their image and expose Obama's deception in a single blow -- agree to raise taxes only on the truly rich, those earning more than $5 million annually. That's a tax that will be shouldered almost entirely by Obama donors and supporters -- those insulated from the real economy.
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