Over at the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne argues (correctly, I believe) that the GOP Clown Car Cavalcade’s central tenet is to run for head of a government they insist cannot work, a Disunited States of America in a very real sense, freed from oversight, responsibility, and oversight from Washington, shades of Goldwater’s 1964 run. What it does is leave President Obama as the classic conservative in the race, fighting to defend the advances in social welfare and the safety net made over the last three generations.
The GOP is engaged in a wholesale effort to redefine the government help that Americans take for granted as an effort to create a radically new, statist society. Consider Romney’s claim in his Bedford speech: “President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.”
Obama believes no such thing. If he did, why are so many continuing to make bundles on Wall Street? As my colleagues Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman have been insisting, Romney is saying things about the president that are flatly, grossly and shamefully untrue. But Romney’s sleight of hand is revealing: Republicans are increasingly inclined to argue that any redistribution (and Social Security, Medicare, student loans, veterans benefits and food stamps are all redistributive) is but a step down the road to some radically egalitarian dystopia.
Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word. He is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went. And here’s the irony: By raising the stakes of 2012 so high, Republicans will be playing into Obama’s hands. The GOP might well win a referendum on the state of the economy. But if this is instead a larger-scale referendum on whether government should be “inconsequential,” Republicans will find the consequences to be very disappointing.
Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann all join Perry in calling for the wholesale elimination of government Cabinet departments. And as Dionne points out, Romney has now joined the group of Republicans who are running to dismantle as much of the federal government as possible, to leave us in an era where the states and cities fight amongst themselves for the favor of the “job creators” in a race to the bottom, each location offering more incentives than the last at greater and greater expense of their least wealthy constituents.
If you believe that states should be engaging in Hunger Games style combat and brutal competition not to create new jobs, but to strip them from other states in order to “win”, then the GOP is your party in 2012. It would be nice if Dionne’s last sentence were true, that Americans wouldn’t vote against their own self-interests, and yet tens of millions will. The only question in 2012 is if enough will turn out to defend the United part in the name of the country. If you believe that America is in this together, and that there’s a role for government in a federal system, then yes, President Obama seems to be the only one keen on going that particular route.