David Frum

10.10.12

Romney's Debate Message: Reform, Not Reaction

Fred Bauer's op-ed in the Daily Caller is worth reading in its entirety, but here's an excerpt deserving special attention.

[R]hetorical style alone cannot explain Romney’s win. Over the past week, Romney has decisively turned his back on a faux-Randianism, one that says conservatism should be the deification of the wealthy few, the castigation of the poor and elderly as parasites, and the elevation of selfishness and pride over community and humility. Romney’s performance in Wednesday’s debate offers a striking counter to the sentiments of the infamous 47% video, which he repudiated on Thursday.

Rather than attacking Social Security and Medicare as instruments of financial slavery (as some in the faux-Randian right view them), Romney defended their value and pledged to make them sustainable. Dismissing the dogma that marginal tax cuts will always pay for themselves (something that even a tax-cut hawk like Paul Ryan has also implicitly rejected), Romney pledged that he will not support a tax-cut plan that adds to the deficit. Instead of arguing that government regulations always harm the economy, Romney stressed that regulations are essential for a market economy. Faced with accusations that his policies would lead to a Hobbesian state of nature, Romney cited his own record as governor of Massachusetts.

In a nation where so few likely voters remain undecided, why the sudden push to the center?

Bauer's work is a subtle endorsement of Michael Gerson's flawed, yet useful, article on conservatism's divide between reformers and rejectionists. Interestingly, Gerson put Paul Ryan in the camp with the reformers, ostensibly hoping to push his Medicare premium support plan into mainstream respectability.

That didn't quite work as planned. And, like President Bush saw in the midst of his failed efforts to offer a private option for Social Security in 2005, voters overwhelmingly reject efforts to dramatically reform the welfare state.

Why?

Matt Yglesias answers that with a headline, saying: "[T]he Voters Don't Want Change."

What else would you expect from an electorate that doesn't trust its legislators and is still feeling the pain of the worst economic downturn in nearly a century? Given the choice, I'd predict voters will select "I'll keep everything the same" before "let's try new things!" nearly every time.