Thursday, February 16, 2012

What If The Election Narrative Is A Lie?

We are told that this election--one that is said to be (by some) the most pivotal since the 1860 election that set the stage for the civil war--is important. This page,, explains why (you don't have to read the quote--just know it's like 200 words all about the economy and the economic impacts of the Obama administration):
We are at a pivotal point in American history, and the 2012 elections could possibly be the most important elections in our lifetime. The stakes have never been higher. The liberal agenda is progressing at an unprecedented rate, and it will be full steam ahead until these out of control senators and congressmen are removed from office and replaced by men and women of integrity. This is where the Tea Party Movement comes in. When choosing candidates to support, we must be extremely careful and choose candidates whose values align with our own. Our three main issues of concern are fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets. On average, government worker wages are 35% higher than their private sector counterparts and also have a 69% greater benefits package. The national debt is now over 14 trillion and growing daily. Does this sound like fiscal responsibility? Federal, state, and local governments now employ over 23 million people (not including military personnel), and is the fastest growing job sector in America. Does this sound like limited government? The federal government is now the owner of or directly involved in the banking industry, the automobile industry, and the healthcare industry. Now on the agenda for the EPA in an “end around” of Congress are the cap and trade regulations which would amount to the largest tax increase in America’s history. Does this sound like free markets? This has got to stop! We have got to replace these politicians who will say and do anything just to get elected. We need elected officials who actually have honor and will do what they say and not make promises that they can’t keep just to get elected. Tea Party members, please look at the individual and not a party. Be informed about the candidates and know where they really stand on the issues. Your vote in the 2012 elections could be the most important vote you cast in your lifetime and may determine the course of America for generations. Choose wisely.
Notably missing is anything in there about gay marriage, abortion, or even contraception. The issue, we are told, is that America is heading for a Greek-style bankruptcy and the people in charge (possibly ideological Marxists or Socialists) are driving it there. We've got to get them out of there! Let's Get This Done, people!

What if that wasn't the case?

Right now RealClearPolitics has Rick Santorum up six points nationally. He's up 7.3 in the key/critical swing-state of Ohio. In Michigan, where Romney has said a Santorum win "Won't happen" he's up 8.2. Although the smart money is against Santorum winning it's surely not impossible. At this point? It might even be a worthy bet.

The Narrative
The story that we usually hear is that Romney is simply an insufficient front-runner. Rich, educated, and presidential looking, he can't "close the deal" because of his record (RomneyCare), his flip-flopping (he ran as a progressive), his tin-ear ("I'm unemployed"), or his gaffe-prone public speaking ("I like to fire people"). In this story, despite the fact that he polls the best against Obama, he's not a unifying candidate because he falls just short. He hasn't pandered to 'the base' or he's not talking about the 'right issues.'

Or people just don't trust him.

To be sure, this is a reasonably convincing narrative. If I had to bet, I would say the preponderance of the evidence is in favor of it: he does seem like he'll change his mind to whatever sounds most likely to get him elected ... and it's hard to love someone who comes off as your super-rich long-distance relative who keeps finding excuses not to take your calls.

But there's a counter-narrative out there that's worth looking at.

The Counter-Narrative
Remember Newt in the debates taking it to Juan Williams with the "Food-Stamp President" line of attack against Obama--standing up directly to 'The Race Card.'? Or him raging, electric on stage at the liberal Main-Stream Media over his ex-wife's expose? It isn't hyperbole to say this show of force against political correctness and the liberal elite rocketed him to his win in South Carolina. Don't forget Donald Trump. His strategy to rise to the top (for a short time) was attacking Obama on his birth certificate. Part of Herman Cain's appeal was that, as a successful, conservative black man he scared liberals. Bachmann is probably a good standard bearer on small-government issues but she's huge on socials issues first and foremost.

What if what we are seeing now is the battle within the Republican base as to whether the predominant issues of our time are economic (Romney) or social (Santorum)--and the idea that what is most wrong with our country are social issues is winning. In other words, we've heard that the economic stuff is a 'smoke-screen' because there was no Tea Party under Bush: Could Rick Santorum's rise be proof that charge was true?

Could That Be True?
Firstly, we have to understand a couple of things. Keep in mind that a Pew poll found that the Tea Party is generally sympathetic to the "religious right's" point of view but they are not the same entity. About 46% of Tea Party people asked didn't know what the 'religious right' was, nor had an opinion. But the Tea Party as a whole does show a strong preference against gay marriage, gun control, abortion, and immigration. If the driving force behind the split in this country isn't really economic concerns (what ObamaCare will do to the economy--or what the Payroll Tax Holiday will do to Social Security, and so on) how would we know?

What We Might See: A Social Culture Warrior
If what's fueling the Republican base isn't an intellectual response to economic issues but, rather, an emotional response to a perceived cultural threat we could reasonably expect to see the selection of a culture-warrior over an economic Mr-Fix-It candidate. That's exactly what we see with Santorum.

To be sure there are legitimate arguments that Romney is not sufficiently fiscally conservative (but does anyone really think he wouldn't "dance with the one who brought him" and not try his best to get rid of ObamaCare?). To be sure, Santorum probably isn't as bad as his detractors say he is on the small-government front.

But I think it cannot be argued that Romney is essentially an economic candidate and Santorum is essentially a social one. To have Rick Santorum not just up--but way up--and to have a reasonable number of the previous out-in-front candidates running not just on economic platforms (but while 9-9-9 was clever and catchy did anyone really take it seriously?) but social ones, I think a case can be made that what Romney really lacks is the culture warrior catchet.

In other words: is preventing gay marriage really more important than salvaging the economy to a sizable part of the Republican base? Looking at the numbers, a case can be made that it is.

Follow Up: I'm not the only one who thinks so. This humor article has Romney struggling to "get to the right" of new front-runner Gengis Kahn. Thanks to the tweet from David Frum.


  1. > What If The Election Narrative Is A Lie?

    I thought that was already obvious.

    If the driving force of Republican voters *was* economic issues and/or government debt issues, then we would be seeing more talk devoted to actually *solving* those issues.

    Cutting salaries of non-military government employees does *not* qualify as a solution to the debt problems as it's blatantly inconsequential. It also doesn't qualify as a solution to the current economic issues, as it clearly works *against* economic recovery.

    If debt was a real driving force, we would have seen more dissent within the party during the 8 years prior to Obama taking office when the debt & deficit began to skyrocket during a time of economic growth.

    If they were real concerns, we'd also see social policy that has a net economic savings (ex: contraception) be supported by the GOP, not opposed.

    It's very clear that the real driving force behind the conservative side of the country (excepting the few libertarians) is a social one, away from individual freedom. The economic and fiscal arguments are just cover stories.

    1. Good comments.

      I think a case can be made that the only candidate who has anything substantial and serious to say about deficit reduction is Ron Paul--and that his foreign policy is, to an extent, necessary to carry that out.

      However it's also possible that Romney, while an economic candidate is simply such a bad one that the primary has gotten everything messed up and confused.

      I do understand what you're saying but I don't think it's the *only* possible explanation for the way things have played out.

  2. I feel like the economic issues are the barker, the social issues: the show. The GOP has shown us repeatedly that simple, easy-to-digest ideas *trump* massively more important issues for voter persuasion every time. The fact that the Tea Party doesn't KNOW what the "religious right" is / means is evidentiary to the GOP absconding with blue-collar America through intellectual bottom-feeding. My $0.02. I would challenge 90+% of GOPers to explain the actual impact and consequence of "the debt" or "deficit spending". Ain't gonna happen, because IF THEY DID have the ability, they would NEVER go down that road. It's too complicated and takes too much thought for their base.