Mitt Romney ran a carefully calibrated presidential campaign, single-mindedly targeting swing voters with the message that Obama was a great guy who failed to deliver the goods, so why not vote Republican and hope for change.
In contrast, Barack Obama made a sweeping moral argument: America is moving forward toward a fairer society where everybody has a shot; in order to finish the journey we must reject Romney’s plan to return us to the greed and selfishness of the Bush years; in particular, we cannot afford the tax cutting and lax regulation that caused the recent financial crisis.
Oh, and in case you missed it: Osama bin Laden is dead.
The Left has a built-in persuasive advantage in any campaign: Any premises left unstated on the stump are fully baked into the popular milieu through the tireless mediation of teachers, comedians, pop singers, businessmen, journalists … you name it.
The typical response from the Right—particularly establishment Republicans—is to first bemoan the unfairness of our left-leaning cultural predisposition, and then ignore it, preemptively discarding the counterargument. It’s so very difficult, you see; we might alienate women and Hispanics; those ideas mainly appeal to old white men; and so on.
So having ceded the commanding heights of worldview and language to the Left, the candidate of the Right is left to tinker at the margins. Under these conditions it is surprising that Romney came as close to victory as he did.
Let’s start with a glittering example: Barack Obama endlessly repeated the line that Mitt Romney would return us to the failed policies that brought us to the brink of global financial ruin in 2008; as though a five-percentage point difference in the top marginal income tax rate marked the divide between prosperity and calamity.
Yet I never heard anybody in Republican campaign-land gainsay any of this.
Even under the time constraint of a televised debate, it would be simple to point out the flourishing of crony capitalism under the coercive umbrella of the Community Reinvestment Act, abetted by government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were led by assorted Democrat politicos-turned-executives who got fantastically rich pumping up the sub-prime mortgage market. All this with the grateful assistance of the usual suspects from the rent-seeking wing of the private sector.
For another example, it is seemingly everywhere noted in the run-up to the Fiscal Cliff that universal peace, prosperity, and balanced budgets prevailed under the Clinton-era income tax rates, so why all this Sturm und Drang from elected Republicans hell-bent on safeguarding the interests of the top one percent?
Again, nobody on our side bothers to point to the elephant in the room: Obama's runaway spending. Our brief moment of fiscal rectitude under President Clinton resulted from federal outlays falling to 18% of gross domestic product as against rising to 24% of GDP under the Obama program of budget-by-continuing-resolution. And if the Left insists on calling out Clinton's income tax increase, shouldn't the Right mention his substantial capital gains tax cut?
However, the most troubling omission from our side in recent months is the absence of a consistent moral argument made in favor of individual liberty. We need to promote an alternative worldview, not just a different tax code.
An economic system run by free people and free markets is morally superior in every respect to President Obama's government-directed version, which favors the well-heeled and politically connected. Ironically, Obamanomics creates the very social conditions the president inveighs against: A nation of haves and have nots, locked in unending conflict.
Far from creating the financial crisis, limited constitutional government, established to secure God-given natural rights, resulted in the fairest, most prosperous, and most ethnically diverse civilization in world history. This is the heritage we seek to preserve.
In order to win the argument, we first must make it.