Sunday, September 23, 2012

A brief lament

I'm not doubting that Governor Romney's 47-percent gaffe will close the door on his hopes for victory. The event, however, encapsulates all that has frustrated me with his campaign and the entire election. For several cycles our big elections have become contests of sound bytes. In this particular election, it's about watching for the other guys' sound bites to become gaffes.

So, the only way to spool up the support of one's bait is to mock and ridicule the bloc that votes for the other guy. Looked at in this light, Romney's comments of 2012 don't seem that different from President Obama's in 2008 (you know, the whole cling to one's guns thing). To win the nomination one must throw enough red meat at the base, and that wins the nomination. But now one has said or insinuated enough to turn off a good half or more of the nation. It makes me think of how prescient the most recent column from The Economist is: "This is dangerous stuff. For all the country’s woes, American civility lives on outside politics. But trust and generosity cannot forever survive a widespread sense that they are being abused. Long after it ends, this election risks leaving scars."

Perhaps it's foolish to wish this, but I wish Romney had apologized for speaking poorly and then offer a pivot. Why is it that 47% of the nation relies on transfer payments from the government? If unemployment is 8.2%, and if another 20% are retired, I think a proportion of around 30 or 35% receiving transfer payments would be normal. Why does another tenth or eighth of the population need or receive these benefits? Is it because we don't do enough to incentivize looking for new work? Is it because we tolerate wages and benefits too low for the working poor to earn an adequate income? Is the large percentage a statement of capitalism cruelly grinding down the working poor or a story of government's awesome power to tax and spend inefficiently redistributing resources?

President Obama and his campaign certainly could have posed questions like this too, with his own answers.