Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | February 1, 2012

Actually, I AM concerned about the very poor

Romney’s verbal blips tend to be revealing.  His brief but telling discussion of which American demographic he’s concerned with shouts “objective-oriented upper management” louder than it shouts anything else.

The reason Romney hasn’t had that much real political success is that he doesn’t have much in the way of a political philosophy.  When political conditions are set for him by outside agency, he’s an effective manager.  His admirable record at Bain, and his achievement in organizing a faltering Olympics for success, attest to that.  But his record as governor of Massachusetts indicates that in a political role, he accepts existing conditions as given, and seeks merely to optimize certain narrow priorities within them.

He is not committed to political principles, but to management.  The two things are different, and one of the worst mistakes Republicans make is to imagine that management trumps political principle.  In fact, the management focus knuckles under repeatedly to political pressure (see Romney in Massachusetts, Schwarzenegger in California, and generations of big businesses facing political activists).  Only philosophical commitment, based on irreducible and non-negotiable ideas, can stand – or prevail – against the assault of demagogic-statist political themes.

It is clear from his passage on “the very poor, the very rich,” etc, that Romney is operating on the vague, complacent mindset conventionalized by left-trending American politics over the last 80 years: that government must “help” certain demographics, while rebuking others; and that no amount of evidence will induce us to change our definition of “help,” or our assessment of the need for it.

What that means in practice is a “cycle of poverty” welfare regime for the very poor; a symbiotic relationship for government with the very rich; a selective dismissal of the impact of government regulation and taxes on our economic conditions; and an incessant, increasingly expensive use of the middle class as a political football.

Those are the factors that have created our current, untenable situation.  Its greatest impact is – as always – on the poorest among us.  The poor have less opportunity today than they did as little as 40 years ago to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” through enterprise and investment as opposed to narrowly-defined “education” and “jobs.”  And the principal reason is that regulation has them surrounded.  It has suppressed job opportunities, made it harder to set up in small business or as an independent contractor, and jeopardized saving by increasing the prices of the goods and services needed for survival.

Impoverishing the middle class with taxation and job-killing regulation hits the poor even harder than it does the middle class.  The middle class is what ultimately employs the poor, by exercising market demand; if it has less purchasing power, the poor lose jobs and business opportunities.  Forcing the price of goods and services up with regulation also hits the poor harder than it hits anyone else.  Policies that seek to suppress the industries and commercial activities disliked by activists hit the poor harder than anyone else.

Government favoritism, toward unions and big business alike, hits the poor harder than anyone else, because it is based on favoring the already connected, and preventing independent “upstarts” – frequently the poor – from competing with them.  Besides distorting markets and costing everyone more in price terms, favoritism also creates a public debt burden, which hits the poor again by adding to the economic discouragement of the middle class.

A separate but intertwined aspect of this issue is the one Newt Gingrich has spoken passionately about:  the debilitating and demoralizing effect on the poor of the very programs that, in Romney’s formulation, keep them “taken care of.”

I truly don’t think Romney means to be cavalier about the poor.  But his wording indicates that his first political instinct is managerial rather than liberty-promoting.  The two postures pull in different directions.  Governments are perennially inclined to try to manage their people.  They don’t naturally respect their people’s liberties and dignity; they have to be ordered to, and kept under constant surveillance and rebuke.  Romney is not the man to do that.  He appears to see the poor, like a lot of other things, as a managerial problem for government.

In the present case, respect for the people would entail acknowledging and revising policies that are socially destructive, and seeing whoever is poor at a given time principally as a “middle-class in waiting,” in need of liberty and opportunity.  It is still possible to offer public assistance without maximizing the disincentives thrown up by government to enterprise and independence for the poor.  The key is to avoid the deadly idea that assistance programs render the poor “taken care of,” as if the poor are a bill coming due.  The poor are people – the source of all creativity and wealth – who will largely respond to and make the most of the same incentives as the middle class and the rich.  America is, if nothing else, a demonstration of the truth of that maxim.

Romney consistently comes off as having an old-school interventionist approach to government.  He also seems to have missed the right’s whole welfare-vs.-enterprise discussion of the 1980s and ‘90s.  He is clearly not someone who would say that for the good of the people and in the interest of our most precious, most empowering commodity – liberty – government needs to stop doing whole categories of things.  Romney doesn’t reflexively or naturally formulate any comment on policy in small-government terms.

It is not, in fact, conservative to think of the poor as “taken care of” by the destructive, self-perpetuating welfare regime in the United States.  Far better for the poor to have the kind of opportunity, and the buying power of their earnings and savings, that they do not have now, but would have if the load of regulatory overreach, predatory taxation, and constituency-tending-by-overspending were lifted on Americans as a whole.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


  1. Romney will do nothing about illegal immigration because of his ties to Mexico. Gingrich is not popular enough to beat Obama. i don’t have a good choice that will help America.

  2. Absolutely excellent summary JE. Spot on the mark. Romney would have been a great Secretary of the Treasury or Commerce… or Chief of Staff. But you are correct.

    He has no “vision” not an ounce. He isn’t an original thinker, and my guess is that his finely honed, impeccably coiffed image is as much a “managerial” decision as his choice in golf balls or pens.

    When he derisively pooh-pooh’ed the need to build a growing and self sustaining base on the Moon (which is not only a valid, but necessary visionary goal intended to benefit us.) he gave himself away, and so did a bunch of his followers.

    You see, without that Politcial, Social, Sovereign “vision”.. Wasn’t Bush I limp on the “vision thing”, too. What you are left with is managing the crap pile.

    History has taught a valuable lesson. Unless man has a near impossible goal that he is actually chasing, he will stagnate, and then turn that energy into killing himself.

    Romney and his clones can’t see that. They don’t have it in their souls. Technocrats make horrible leaders. They do great at getting things done, but yes, those “things” need to be handed to them.

    If Romney is nominated, I expect that he might actually win the election, and then fail miserably.

    He won’t repeal Obamneycare – there won’t be the political will to overcome the inevitable Senate Democrat filibuster. In reality the Establishment resigned itself to Socialized Single Payer (Canadian) healthcare back in the early ’90’s. Bobdole had a nice “Hillarycare-lite” plan all ready to go, and then disaster struck and the Conservatives sustained the filibuster therefore killing the compromise bill.

    He will continue to raise the debt ceiling. There is no stomach for that fight in the Senate, at all, nor in the leadership of the House. All that need be understood is that the same exact set of “not my fault” rules will be put in place for Romney that was done as a compromise for Obummer. The debt will continue to grow.

    He will appoint liberal judges. Senate filibusters… neeners… no-no fingers… all will be shaken and waved thus scaring the Mittster into going with the “flow” don’t look for a New Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, or Alito. With Romney’s judicial picks, Harriet Meyers would look positively Rhenquist-esqe.

    He will raise taxes, and those taxes will be steep. The Senate Weenie in Charge of the Bed-wetting caucus, McConnell, has already hinted that tax increases are coming. They aren’t the Tax-collectors for the Welfare state for nothing.

    The military will sit in limbo. Romney talks a big game, but JE is right he will be handed a tiny military budget, with plans to abandon most overseas commitments, and I really don’t see him changing that, unless we get kicked in the tender parts again.

    Romney will “manage” the decay, and still be excoriated by the Dems as being just an inch to the right of Attila the Hun. So, my bet is that he loses the House in 2014, and maybe some seats in the Senate (there is no guarantee that 2012 will net a majority for the Pubbies either.). But what will come of it all is “Ahnuld” on a national scale. (Good pickup JE… nice analogy).

    The Federalist Party sounds better and better… maybe by 2016..


    • I actually agree with Romney that spending money to put a base on the moon in today’s economy is moonbattery. If you want some near impossible goals to set before the American People, there are plenty. How about balancing the budget? Keeping America safe? Restoring our Republic to its Constitutional foundation? Reducing the burden of regulations? Restoring American industry to where we can manufacture fancy high-tech gadgets that actually work — like staplers, water faucets, etc.? Getting Nancy Pelosi to crack a smile?

      Of course, the rest of your post is correct that Romney won’t be keen on pursuing any of these things. Man of La Mancha, he is not.

      • er um Paisan… Columbus would have to wash your mouth out with soap…

        None of those things are the sorts of envelope pushing exploratory drives that pull men of high energy along with them. Those are the sorts of Technocratic navel gazing that causes mass genocide.

        1. Newt wasn’t proposing that the government do it alone.. He is in favor of public/private partnerships where most of the innovation is done on the private side.

        2. A “colony” is something our great grandchildren might get to enjoy. If we started now. Small steps… Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were tiny Carracks and Caravelles… Susan Constant was just short of 100 tons.. Discovery was the size of a fat yacht.

        Mankind is DRIVEN to GO SOMEWHERE. Since Homo Erectus wandered out of the East African savannah to cross the Levant into central Asia… and spread into Europe, East Asia, and all the way to Australia.. We have this deep pathological need to leave or know that we CAN leave… or we get “trapped”.

        All societies from villages, to Greek Poli to Persia, Rome, Europe… died when they stopped expanding. They ate themselves and all those around them.

        It’s a strange thing, but we are starting to exhibit the signs of being trapped like rats, and having the exact same reactions.

        We must go, and do things bigger and more difficult. We must push the envelope to where what used to be edge is now the comfortable middle.

        If King Ferdinand or Prince Henry had been Mitt Romney types… we’d still be slaughtering each other in endless Condottieri Wars.

        China is going to the Moon. I’d much rather be there first to greet them when they show up. They are not as likely to be as accommodating to us.

        Romney is an Epic Fail.. right out of the starting gate. A face plant ready to happen.

        This Gaffe will be the heart of every Class Warfare, Eat the Rich campaign ad that Axelrod gins up.

        Maybe if he’d (Mittster) had been talking up a re-ignited space program, he wouldn’t have had time to er um un zip and stomp…


        • TMF, you should take the oral detergent treatment for even uttering the phrase “public/private parthership.” That is big-government code for crony capitalism. If you hear that phrase, you should run as fast as possible the other way.

          It leads to blurring the lines between the legitimate functions of government, and businesses seeking special treatment..

          • Dearest Vinnie…

            Transcontinental Railroad ring a bell? A Lincoln pet project that no “capitalist” at the time thought very worthy of their attention…

            It takes the government to allow for the launch of things into orbit… it’s a sort of security and treaty obligation thing.

            And frankly without the government, who is going to assume the liability involved in the entire endeavor? Branson’s little Virgin Galactic gig is going to come to a bitter end if anybody gets more than a little urpy on his “hop and pop” flights.

            There are legitimate things for the government to do, and ones that the founders actually intended for the government to do. Exploration was one of those “sidebar” military things. All of the members of the Corps of Discovery were military – except for some friendly local help. Pike’s peak? Col. Zebulon Pike. One of the US military’s missions is to explore the unknown and its ranks, Army and Navy are filled with explorers.

            We need to go. We need to push, and yes the Chicomms are going to beat us back at this rate. That is not a good thing.

            [Somebody queue Richard Kiley… Vinnie responds well to music…] 🙂

            Your cousin for Life, Gianni..

  3. “…the Occident’s attitude toward work, so far from being natural and normal, is strange and unprecedented. It was the relatively recent emergence of this attitude which, as much as anything else, gave modern Western civilization its unique character and marked it off from all its predecessors.
    In practically all civilizations we know of, and in the Occident too for many centuries, work was viewed as a curse, a mark of bondage, or, at best, a necessary evil. That free men should be willing to work day after day, even after their vital needs are satisfied, and that work should be seen as a mark of uprightness and manly worth, is not only unparalleled in history but remains more or less incomprehensible to many people outside the Occident.”

    This passage is from Eric Hoffer’s tour de force, “The Ordeal of Change”. Although the book is filled with nuggets of insight, this particular observation is important because it applies so directly to the aims of the welfare state. The concept of “working” and having a “job” is not a universal one, even in the Occident. There are many westerners that are quite satisfied to live at lower level of consumption if they can do so with a minimum of effort. Who is to say that they are wrong? And, at the same time, who is to say that the rest of society should subsidize their values? “Progressives” maintain that the “poor”, whoever they might be, are victims in some Darwinian contest for economic supremacy, losers, through no fault of their own, in the game of life. The reality is that they’re not playing the game and that the game’s rules shouldn’t apply to them.

    The continuing national obsession with so-called poverty (in the US poor people have cell phones, cable TV and reliable automobiles) and wealth disparity is an excuse for statists from both the left and the right to exert more control over the economy and the daily life of the population, many of whom are “poor” because they can’t or won’t deal with an increasingly complicated and intrusive state except in streamlined processes that deliver benefits without obligations.

    Romney is correct in his proposition that he needn’t worry about the poorest. Their biggest problem is maintaining an eligibility for the benefits of that status. If some voters can’t be bothered to read the quote in context, it’s just another indication that Toqueville was right.

  4. I’m beginning to entertain the view that the worst thing that could happen for the Nation and for the Republican Party is for any Republican to win this election.

    The only way that our ‘ship of state’ is going to truly ‘right its course’ (in any lasting way) is for the public to unequivocally see the shore to which we currently steer and the economic and geo-political ‘rocks’ ahead.

    Unfortunately, Obama’s disastrous domestic and foreign policies haven’t had enough time for their full consequences to manifest. And, because those consequences haven’t fully manifested, the MSM can continue to deny, distort and manipulate the public’s perception of reality. Thus, the majority of independents and moderate democrats haven’t reached the conclusion that the left’s solutions are the exact opposite of what is needed.

    And, to institute and then maintain the needed policies of reform, requires the majority of the public to be fully committed to that course.

    But what is needed is not currently politically acceptable to the public, (36% still think Obama is doing a good job!) so things will have to either get much worse or continue without improvement for another 4 years before the public will be ready to accept the economic and foreign policies that are needed. As, at that point, denial becomes untenable for the deciding middle to accept.

    But if Obama loses in 2012, Republicans will surely get the blame and the MSM will be able to continue to insist that had we stayed the course, Obama would have righted our ship of state and led us into the glorious future he envisions (choke).

    In 1927, the country would have rejected Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. It took the hopelessness of the depression (far worse than today) for the country to embrace the left’s policies. So too, will it take great pain to awaken the public from their current sleep.

    If Victor Hugo’s observation is true that “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”, then so too is its corollary; until its time has come, no idea can lastingly awaken the public to its insights.

    Until the great majority of the public see liberalism for what it is, no fundamental changes for the better will take place.

  5. “Yes, I am concerned about the very poor. It’s been a problem for a long time, and we all have been working to solve it, and we’ll keep working at it. But what’s new in this circumstance is that the middle class has come under unprecedented — which is a word I seem to be hearing around lately (wry face) — pressure, and I’m every bit as concerned about _that_, and it’s the policies of the present administration that are not only not solving them, but making them worse.”

    How hard is that?

  6. Red Gangster Progressives or Blue Gangster Progressives? Alas, socialism is incurable and once your country has it, will run its course. Your average time span for a country from ashes to phoenix to ashes again is about 200 years or so, I heard. We had a good run, but it’s over. Sorry, not optimistic.

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