by Steve Levy
Recent polls have shown President Obama starting to create a soft cushion in his quest for reelection this November, but make no mistake, this race is far from over. The president received a bounce after what could be one of the most effective conventions ever. With an emotional “We care more about you” speech from Michelle Obama and a professorial “Let’s not give the government back to the guys who caused the problem” speech by Bill Clinton, the president opened up a noticeable lead, especially in some of the most important swing states.
The Republican Convention was simply okay. It humanized Mitt Romney to a certain extent, but unfortunately these emotional stories showing Romney’s more compassionate side were bumped from prime time by Clint Eastwood’s rambling and disrespectful skit with a chair. Ann Romney showed the world what a good man Mitt is, but was over the top in trying to convince Joe Six-pack that the Romneys faced tough times eating tuna fish sandwiches in their college days. The best message of the convention was Chris Christie’s, which talked about the need to say no and to be the grown up. Unfortunately, the guts of the Christie speech were overshadowed by the fact that it was so self-serving and nearly void of the nominee.
Democrats are starting to get a bit cocky in their belief that the so-called Romney gaffe about 47% of the public not paying income taxes has left him dead and buried, but the democrats should be careful in not overplaying their hand regarding this speech. If the republicans are smart, they can pivot from this speech and use its underlying message to make a clear distinction this November as to which of two types of America we want to live in moving forward.
Romney made a mistake in categorizing all of the 47% as considering themselves victims. This is clearly not true, but the concept of cradle to grave government dependency is given fuel by an administration that publishes a pamphlet about a fictitious person named Julia, showing her how she can indeed find government benefits through every stage of her life.
The theme of the republican strategy should come down to one word: Greece. This election should be sold as an opportunity for the public to stop America’s slide toward becoming one of those socialist European countries that is on the verge of fiscal collapse. Greece, Spain, and Italy are all near default because they kept spending with abandon while creating the ultimate entitlement societies. At some point, they had more people in the wagon than pulling the wagon, a recipe for the imploding of a nation. If republicans are able to illustrate that this is the path we are headed down under the present administration policies, they could pull this thing out.
It is important that republicans rebut the Clinton claim that the world-wide near depression was the result of the Bush Administration. While Bush was an irresponsible spender, borrowing to pay for two wars and a prescription drug program, the collapse of late 2008 was rooted in the real estate bubble that emanated from the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act in the late nineties, and which ironically was signed by then President Clinton himself. The theory that everyone should own a home, whether they could afford it or not, was doomed to fail.
But even when the toxic real estate market recovers, we will still face the troubles of Europe that built unsustainable entitlement programs. The question is which candidate is most likely to make the tough decisions to clamp down on ever increasing dependence on food stamps, unemployment insurance, and social security disability payments, and who will address the fiscal realities of an aging population. It certainly isn’t President Obama. Nor is it Bush type republicans. The officials who have proven they have the backbone to take on the rapidly growing government dependency lobby are republican governors such as Christie, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell. These budget hawks have turned their states around. On the other hand, states such as California and Illinois, which continue to be governed by big spending democratic governors and legislatures, are in horrible financial straits.
If Romney can prove to the working and middle classes that his policies will mirror those of these Republican governors to get the U.S. government back in balance, it will instill a sense of hope that perhaps we can stave off a European type fate.
Yes, the 47% figure is misleading, but that doesn’t erase the fact that our entitlement culture is unsustainable. If the so-called Romney gaffe results in focusing voter attention on the dangers of spiraling benefits, it may in the long term inure to Romney’s favor.
Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political, governmental and business consulting firm. He served a Suffolk County Executive from 2004-2011 and as a member of the New York State Assembly