There’s something weird going on in politics this time around and its been nagging me for a few weeks. Since the conventions I’ve been trying to articulate exactly what’s been bothering me and I think Mitt Romney stumbled into it or at least 47% of it. When the video surfaced of Romney at a May 2012 fundraiser talking about “victims” and “dependents” and how many people may or may not be off-limits to him, he also revealed a subtext that has flipped the two political parties on their heads.
Republicans are advocates of change.
Granted, Romney was not saying he thought more of the 47% should pay their “fair share.” Perish the thought. No. Romney was saying
(or wasn’t saying) that 47% of the people who don’t pay personal income tax have no vested interest in lower taxes. This was made even clearer by a witty New Yorker blog post thoughtfully sent to the Pickle by a die-hard reader (thanks, TBS). The author argues that its not so much that Romney was wrong as it is he didn’t make the whole point. The lower taxes argument does not mean a whole lot to people who do not pay taxes. Obama’s response – make the millionaires pay their “fair share.”
Essentially, let the Bush tax cuts expires and keep everything else pretty much the same.
In 2008, Barack Obama ran on “change.” He meant – change Washington, change politics, and change hearts and minds. Classic Democratic rhetoric. Apparently he’s realized that it’s difficult to change to Washington from the inside. So, what’s he advocating? Slow, reasonable and practical growth.
What’s Romney pushing? Repeal, overturn, reform and redo.
If you define “liberal” and “conservative” as “demanding change” and “maintaining the status quo,” I would argue that Obama is conservative and Romney is liberal.
Yeah, Mitt Romney. Liberal. I know. It’s weird, right? I mean, he was governor of Massachusetts but still, he’s as vanilla as they come. And yet, he is the candidate trying to convince Americans to reverse progress, upend government programs and agencies, repeal legislation and let American companies fail in order to restore the market balance.
In many ways, Romney is risky.
Romney is not interested in stability or consistency.
Romney is liberal. Change. Kinda ironic, isn’t it?
Obama, on the other hand, is making the level-headed appeal for rationality, common sense and normalcy. Obama is conservative by nature. Despite what you might hear at a local Tea Party rally, Obama is moderate.
We used to think about liberal and conservative in terms of how much government was involved in policy choices. This is an old and out-of-date definition. The government is everywhere and in everything. Romney is not gonna change that. Romney is government. He lived it in Massachusetts and he’ll embrace the role of government should he ever assume Highest Office.
The true definition of liberal and conservative should be in terms of risk vs. stability. How much risk is a candidate willing to take? How turbulent to the economy and other areas will a candidate’s policies be?
In that context, I would argue that the Republicans have become the rowdy activists and Democrats the somber wonks.
Republicans are looking to rock the boat this election. Voter ID laws. Women’s rights. Deregulation. Climate denial. I’m sure Democrats will read this and immediately point to the fact that Republicans are conservative because they are trying to take the country back to the 18th Century. But that’s not what I’m saying. It’s clear that Dems still value progress on social issues. No question. But more and more, social issues are not dominating elections the way they were in the late 80s and 90s.
Instead, millennials (and everyone outside the top tax bracket) are increasingly voting on economic and fiscal issues. Employment. Taxes. Job creation. Cost of living. Energy.
I voted for President Obama in 2008 and my expectations were high for what an Obama Administration would mean for the political climate in this country. In that regard, I was wrong. President Obama did not fundamentally change how we interact with our government or politics. He just didn’t. From where I sit, he made emergency decisions in 2009-2010 to try to salvage the autos and banks. Besides political risks on health care, he played it right down the middle. Even health care wasn’t that risky, Massachusetts had already gone there!
I don’t know. And that’s the truth. I don’t think defining Romney as an activity or Obama as a moderate is going to change anyone’s vote. I don’t think the term liberal really even means change anymore. It means Left, as in politically left of center. Similarly, conservative means traditionalor small government. It does not really mean status quo.
What I do think is that Obama is safer than Romney. I know that flies in the face of many voters, whether in the 47% or not, that believe Obama is the dangerous candidate.
What would Obama “do” in a second term? What’s he capable of?
I think those sentiments are ridiculous. Fundamentally, I think its Romney who wants to take risks. He’s the investor. The venture capitalist. I know his speeches are filled with traditional American values. But he is looking to halt the slow creep of the government and make dramatic and dynamic changes to the way we do business and perhaps live. That sounds liberal to me.
Some might read this as a reverse endorsement of Romney/Ryan. I assure you that’s not how it was intended but then again, I didn’t build it.