Who says a Carter has never something good for the country? Thanks to James Earl Carter IV, the grandson of the formerly incomparable 39th president of the United States, there is now some clarity, some much needed definition to this election. On the left, you have the ‘redistribution favoring,’ tax, tax, and tax (thank you, Mr. Chief Justice) and spend, spend, and spend liberal, President Barack Obama, and on the right . . . yes, the right . . . you have the freedom loving, entrepreneurial pumping conservative, Mitt Romney. Oh, I know, conservatives like me have lamented for months about Mr. Romney’s lack of conservative credentials, but thanks to a misplayed ‘gotcha’ tape, conservatives now have little reason to doubt Mr. Romney’s credentials as the GOP’s standard bearer for principles of smaller and limited government.
Within hours of the tape’s release, regular hand-wringers on the supposed GOP right, failing to observe the well-intentioned and oft-ignored 24 hour rule, jumped all over Mitt Romney for his commentary about the so-called 47%. Such criticism was first leveled by the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol. In his prickly editorial, Mr. Kristol labeled Mr. Romney’s comments as both ‘arrogant’ and ‘stupid.’ Pot meet kettle.
Mr. Kristol’s missive, echoed more recently in less offensive fashion by Ramesh Ponneru and Rich Lowry, careens off-target, first, when he ignores the context (and, no, I am not referencing the context of the words spoken, but the context provided by the nature of the event at which they were spoken) in which these comments were offered. Mr. Romney was speaking, privately, to those to whom he hopes will financially back his campaign at a point in time in which he was still attempting to convince even the most ardent of GOP backers that he had the conservative credentials to be the party standard bearer. Romney was throwing donors some red meat to sink their teeth into - a stark statement of the challenge he faces to overcome that 47% which he felt likely would support the President and the need for continued financial backing to make that happen. Anyone who has run for office, at the local, state or federal level, recognizes that campaign template. Summarily disregarding that context in order to gratuitously label Romney as ‘contemptuous’ of millions of people is silly.
‘Contempt’ is a strong word. Despite Mr. Kristol’s best efforts to bootstrap his concluding jab that Mr. Romney has ‘done so little for our country over his lifetime’ with such claims of his contempt for Americans, facts render this non-sequitur as intellectually vapid.
First, we must ask, who’s being contemptuous, Mr. Kristol? Mr. Kristol’s cavalier terminology reveals a contentment with an ‘inside the beltway,’ big government mentality that holds ‘service to the country’ must be accomplished through some form of government service. Borrowing Mr. Kristol’s phraseology, there are ‘tens of millions’ of Americans – heck, perhaps hundreds of millions of Americans – who would label such a view as absurd, as nothing more than the flip side of the ‘government dependence’ coin to which Mr. Romney was speaking. Admittedly, Mr. Romney inartfully attempted to address such government dependence in his fundraiser comments, but there is no reasonable dispute that he correctly identified the differing views over ‘government dependence’ as critical to America’s future.
Americans serve their country every day, Mr. Kristol, by building small business or by assisting others in that effort, by contributing time, energy and money to charitable organizations, and by spearheading and coalescing around topics and causes of broader public concern. Such private efforts are the everyday fabric of America’s strength and purpose, Mr. Kristol.
Mitt Romney is the penultimate example of such private effort - for decades he was a leader in developing American manufacturing and service industries, benefitting America and Americans in countless number of ways. He and his wife, Ann, have assumed leadership positions in organizations, which affect the lives of millions of Americans, whether its breast cancer awareness or Multiple Sclerosis. And, Mr. Kristol, there are few, if any, examples of greater charitable giving and dedication of personal time and resources - read ‘tens of millions’ of dollars, Mr. Kristol – than that displayed by Mitt Romney and his family.
And, then, Mr. Romney has served as the leader of America’s Olympic effort in Salt Lake City, called in to rescue an enterprise beset by reckless spending and delay. And, then, Mr. Romney served as a governor of Massachusetts.
So little done for our country, Mr. Kristol? What over-the-top, pompous drivel.
Further, lost in Mr. Kristol’s blanket criticism that the target of Mr. Romney’s comments included his own supporters is any substantive discussion regarding the broader point raised by Mr. Romney. America is trending toward a government dependent society. At the end of Mr. Kristol's submarine job, we are left with not knowing whether he agrees or disagrees with this point or whether, in his estimation, such a trend is a good thing or not.
Instead, we sense that Mr. Kristol would rather, as would seemingly both Ponneru and Lowry, debate the intricacies and accuracies of the 47%. Messrs. Ponneru and Lowry offer a more intellectual challenge to Mr. Romney’s comments, including yet another convenient slide into Ponneru’s reform conservative agenda, but they, like Mr. Kristol, miss the point.
Ultimately, their misdirection can be likened to an argument over whether a tree has 10,000 leaves or 20,000 leaves as if relevant to a determination about whether the tree is a tree. Borrowing another ‘arbor’ analogy, in the context of this presidential election, Kristol, Ponneru and Lowry are missing the forest for the trees.
Whether it’s 47% or 60% or 75% of Americans whom fall within the category of being somewhat, substantially or completely dependent on government, or who don’t pay income tax, does it really matter? Isn’t the crux of the issue, highlighted by Mr. Romney’s comments, the debate over whether a growing government dependence is a good thing or a bad thing? And, isn’t it that distinction that Mr. Romney attempted to draw between himself and the most left-leaning president in American history? And, isn’t that distinction accurate? Mr. Kristol doesn’t tell us explicitly – it’s hard to say something generous when you’re being so pithy – but presumably, that distinction is what permits him to offer that ‘it remains important for the country that Romney wins in November.’
At no time in recent history has the debate over the role of government been more sharpened or hotly debated. The emergence of the Tea Party movement set against a growing reliance on government entitlements, including Obamacare, is the essence of the schism between America’s political left and right. As impolitic as Mr. Romney’s words were, at least, they do answer any question over whether Mr. Romney, in an unvarnished moment, understands the nature of this division and the importance of his candidacy to resolving America’s growing cancer of government dependence and insurmountable debt. He does.
Isn’t this the substance about America’s future that Mr. Kristol flippantly claimed is missing from the presidential race? One is left to wonder whether Mr. Kristol doesn’t see that or, opportunistically, he wanted to put on blinders in order to criticize a candidate with whom he has many differences. This much is certain – there is no shortage of irony found in Mr. Kristol’s labeling Mr. Romney’s comments as arrogant and stupid, while he pastes Mr. Romney as a contemptuous, presidential free-loader. Again, pot meet kettle.
For months and months and months, conservatives have argued over whether, in Mitt Romney, we would have a candidate who would reflect a Massachusetts liberalism or a candidate who had a core conservatism that adhered to the notions of free enterprise and limited government. Later than we may have desired and while wishing that this revelation occurred in a more gentile way than it did, we have discovered our ‘golden ticket.’ Mr. Romney is a candidate who will defend these conservative values. Now, rather than run from these comments – they are out, after all – conservatives should use them to crystallize the essence of America’s current political debate and leave the inflammatory missives from the cheap seats for another day.