"The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in." — Walter Russell Mead.
That sort of sums it up, no?
When we elected Senator Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, we assumed that he understood this. To pretend otherwise, after all, was to deny basic arithmetic.
Everybody understands that the social model we inhabit, which Mr. Mead calls Big Blue, is bankrupt. The deficits and unfunded liabilities now stretch out before us for as far as the eye can see (and beyond). Unless we arrive at some sort of new social model (fast), the next generation will be paying confiscatory taxes with drastically reduced services, all to insure that baby-boomers waddling around in their "golden years" get free health care and COLA-ed pension checks. The war against arithmetic is also a war against the young.
We assumed that Sen. Obama, knowing this, would endeavor to fix it. He didn't. Instead, he embraced the Blue Social Model; passing the laughably-named Affordable Care Act, bailing out the UAW in the GM bailout, throwing Simpson-Bowles under the bus, not addressing the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, not addressing Davis-Bacon and "prevailing wage" laws. The list goes on and on (and on).
Which brings us to today.
In a speech to the nation's newspaper editors this morning, President Obama announced that he was running for re-election to preserve the Blue Social Model; pretending that it can be kept afloat long into the future and pledging to protect it from the dastardly designs of, among others, Paul Ryan, House GOP Budget Chairman and author of the so-called Ryan plan for addressing America's fiscal emergency.
The claim is that Ryan equals Romney, and that “social Darwinism” awaits if you pull the lever for the Mormon. That’s the Obama re-elect “message” in a nutshell.
Which brings us to tonight. With his sweep of the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries, Mitt Romney has finally secured the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. That is no small feat, given the realities of the modern Republican Party.
But he did so without sketching out any design of what a new social model might look like. Indeed, Mr. Romney seemed to stand aside from the most urgent political and policy question of our time -- what comes next -- and instead bored us to tears with reassurances that America would be great again if only we elected him to its highest office.
The key to a Romney victory is not to defeat President Obama; that would be a byproduct. The key is to make the case that the Blue Social Model is truly dead, that a new model is urgently needed and to present the first rough draft of what the new model might look like. Points one and two are an open-and-shut case. Point three is much riskier, obviously, but will (over time and with repetition) sharpen the points of difference. Vote for Obama and surely sink. Vote for Romney and at least there’s hope.
Mr. Romney will never run his campaign along these lines. He and his team will Etch A Sketch as they go; energy today, bomb Iran tomorrow, whatever gets them through the next news cycle.
Good luck with that. They'll be up against a well-oiled Obama attack machine and an Amen Chorus in Big Liberal Media; the largest, most powerful Super PAC on the planet earth.
Without a larger argument, Romney’s Etch A Sketch campaign will almost surely end in defeat. If he’s not serious, then why bother? The collapse of Big Blue is serious business.