Campaign season is not a time for truth. It’s a time for the candidates, the media and the voters to tell themselves fables.
The Democrats’ fable this year is straightforward: President Barack Obama has been a failure at reviving the economy because the hole dug by George W. Bush and the Republicans was so deep that it will require a second Obama term to fully reverse the damage. Further, the obstructionist Republicans in Congress are blocking the kind of “progressive” reforms, such as new taxes on the rich, that would solve our budget and deficit emergencies and boost economic growth.
Democrats fondly imagine that merely taxing the rich will balance the federal budget. A few facts: The president got everything he asked for from the Democratic House and Senate in 2009 and 2010. This included a massive stimulus that was supposed to “create or save” 3.5 million jobs, an elephantine new health-care entitlement and financial regulation. Since the midterm elections, it is not the Republicans alone who have blocked Obama. The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget resolution since April 29, 2009. In May 2011, the Senate voted 97-0 to defeat the president’s budget proposal.
As for taxing “millionaires and billionaires” to solve our budget problems, this is fantasy. As The Wall Street Journal reminds us, even if we confiscated all of the wealth of the richest Americans, we’d net only about $938 billion, “which is sand on the beach amid the $4 trillion White House budget, a $1.65 trillion deficit, and spending at 25 percent as a share of the economy ...” Even if we confiscated the wealth of everyone earning more than $200,000, “it would yield about $1.89 trillion, enough revenue to cover the 2012 bill for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — but not the same bill in 2016, as the costs of those entitlements are expected to grow rapidly.”
Republicans are telling themselves fables, too. One suggests that the “Republican establishment” is attempting to foist Mitt Romney on an unwilling electorate, just as it “always” forces Republicans to accept moderate, squishy nominees.
The Republican establishment, like the “international community” is more of a figment than a reality. Whom did the so-called establishment support in 2008? Do conservative voters believe that Republican elites somehow engineered the selection of the least loyal and reliable Republican in the U.S. Senate? And how did that work exactly? John McCain was considered the frontrunner in early 2007. Yet by the summer, he was languishing in the polls and so broke that he was forced to take out loans. Was it the establishment that earned McCain the nomination, or was it the fact that Rudolph Giuliani ran a terrible campaign, Fred Thompson never got airborne and Mike Huckabee undermined Romney’s Iowa slingshot strategy?
What about 2000? Did the establishment pick Bush? It might seem so, based on primogeniture. But the comfort with Bush came from the grassroots up, not from the top down. Bush himself acknowledged that he was enticed to run not by fat cats at a private club but by the polls. Yes, he was certainly aided in the money chase by his pedigree. But if money determined the outcome of primaries, we’d have been treated to the nomination of Phil Gramm in 1996.
Speaking of 1996, Bob Dole won the primaries because his opponents — Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes — were not perceived as presidential and carried only six states between them compared with 44 for the winner. (Memo to file: Find better candidates.)
This year, most of the Republican field is strongly conservative. But some disgruntled conservatives are convincing themselves that Ron Paul is a more authentic conservative than Romney. Really? On the one question that ought to define a candidate’s seriousness — grappling with entitlements — Paul is trafficking in fairy tales while Romney has proposed far-reaching reforms. Campaigning in Iowa, Paul told voters that we “don’t have to give up” any of the ruinous entitlement programs. It would all be made affordable, he explains, by waving the magic wand of drastic defense cuts, which is false. Romney, by contrast, along with the other Republican candidates, has proposed changing Medicare to a premium support model and returning Medicaid to the states.
There is no shortage of fable peddlers in an election year. But the voters have to shake off their own misconceptions as well. We have seen the establishment, and it is us.