As all good libertarians do, I like to complain about politics on Facebook. A conservative friend of mine objected to my assertion in a recent post that the differences between Republicans and Democrats, and by extension, Romney and Obama, are fuzzy at best. Not so, he claimed. A Romney victory last Tuesday would have spelled the end for Obamacare; severe restrictions on businesses and EPA regulations that are choking off job creation would be have been a thing of the past.
I know what Romney said he would do, but in order to be able to assess what he actually might have done, it’s important to compare his policy aims with what previous Republican presidents have actually done. What of Bush and the EPA for example? According to a Politico article from last year, Republicans were bashing the Obama administration for trying to achieve the same greenhouse gas objectives the Bush administration pursued under the Clean Air Act. Why would Romney's EPA be more conservative, given that his conservative credentials are perpetually in doubt?
Yes, Romney would have been able to stop Obamacare via the 50-state waivers. And replace it with what? A free market in health care would require untangling a massive web of cartels, intellectual property issues, and bad regulations, as well as dealing with the education bubble. How would he have done that? It’s unlikely Romney would be any more willing to tackle that problem than Bush or any other Republican president I can think of. It’s going to create too many angry voters and doctors and lead to certain defeat in the next cycle.
Does that mean we should just despair and forget about fixing what we perceive to be wrong with America? Absolutely not. My point here is that bridging the chasm between campaign rhetoric and policy practices in the economic, political and fiscal environment we are dealing with requires politicians to be something akin to kamikaze pilots. Elected officials, who spend millions to get elected and sacrifice a great deal to become public figures, must be willing to watch their careers crash and burn due to the expense of political capital necessary to fix a problem this big. With the entirety of annual federal tax receipts due to be consumed by interest on the national debt in just a few years, there is no longer any way to grow, tax or spend our way to prosperity without taking painful and recession-inducing cuts first.
This doesn’t comport with how the process works. When people vote, they are voting for the philosophy espoused by the guy they are voting for. They are voting for values, and are usually oblivious to results (outside of issues which affect them directly, such as tax rates). Very little ever changes. When we consider $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities that need to be either funded or eliminated it is very difficult to see how any president, right or left, is going to fix things without spending ALL of his political capital and likely leaving office a broken, deeply unpopular man. Real change requires angering one’s own constituents, not just those of the opposite party in a world where every federal dollar has already been spoken for by some constituency before it has even been borrowed from China or the Fed.
Political differences are 80% philosophy, 20% practice. In practice, there is hardly a sliver of daylight between Obama and most recent Republican presidents on so many issues, including foreign policy, defense spending, civil liberties, environmental regulation, even the growth in entitlement and healthcare spending. Both the Ryan and Obama plans, for example, shave 10% off of the growth in Medicare spending over the next decade, extending the solvency of the program until only 2024. (If history is any indication, we can expect that date to keep moving closer to us). R’s and D’s have different methods, yes, and assuredly different rhetoric, but the results are all too similar.
People get into politics to make a difference. I believe most politicians at least start out sincere. At some point they get “mugged by reality,” when they realize what a farce it is, but often decide they want to stay and play the game anyway, employing the same old focus-group-tested rhetoric. Matching the practice to the rhetoric is going to have to be the realm of those who have uncommon political courage. Romney, like so many before him, just wasn’t the man for the job.