I watched debate No. 16 last night and started wondering if it was financed by a Democratic Super Pac. The Grinch was in fine form as he took John King to task for asking him about his request for an open marriage. If only Judge Welsh had been there to say “Have you no shame.” I wish I had been there and had a chance to ask my question: “Mr. Gingrich, are you in an open marriage now?” Rick Santorum acquitted himself very well, maybe the only grownup there and the only one with a heart, even if it’s in the wrong place. I was surprised at some of the commentary this week, especially the suggestion that all of the Republican candidates are to the right of the Bushes and the late John Huntsman the farthest right of all, at least with respect to taxes. The worst outcome I can imagine is that Romney makes it through the primary muddle and beats Obama in November. I don’t think I could stand listening to him hem and haw for 4 years.
There was much food for thought in the Washington Post this morning. Krauthammer opined that the Grinch et al are doing the Democrats’ work for them by attacking Bain Capital as “nothing more than vulture capitalism looting companies and sucking them dry while casually destroying the lives of workers.” He got that right. He’s worried because this is clearly an attack on the 1% and no true Republican should want that. Harold Meyerson opined that an Obama-Romney race would be a face-off between the two elites that Americans love to hate: the cool academic social engineer who is culturally estranged from the white working class and isn’t opposed to governments helping racial minorities and the paper shuffling, unfeeling banker, utterly out of touch with most Americans’ concerns and who comes from inherited wealth to boot. And Eugene Robinson is wondering how the republican candidates can say their number one priority is defeating Obama in November and taking back our country. From whom? And aren’t our structural problems like restarting the economy and creating jobs the first thing on everyone’s agenda, followed by education, research, infrastructure and the environment?
The prize today goes to Michael Gerson. Never have I seen a columnist be so right and so wrong in a single paragraph:
Liberals often fail to recognize that income redistribution, while preventing penury is not identical to social equality. The main challenge of poverty is not a lack of consumption but a lack of social capital – measured in skills and values – and of opportunity. Addressing these problems is more complex than increasing marginal tax rates, particularly when revenue is used to cover the increasing costs of non-means-tested entitlement programs. The structure of the modern welfare state is not focused on empowering the poor. Instead, it has increased the percentage of government transfer payments that go to the middle- and upper-income seniors.
He is so right when he says that the main challenge of poverty is lack of social capital. He is so wrong when he says liberals fail to recognize this. Programs like Head Start, Pell Grants, Medicaid, Food Stamps, housing and fuel assistance have everything to do with efforts to help people living in poverty take advantage of opportunities for education and employment to better their circumstances and increase the level of their “social capital.” Who proposes these programs? Liberals. Who opposes them? Self righteous conservatives who suggest the only requirement is a firm grip on one’s boot straps. They remind me of the investment banker I talked to on Thanksgiving Day, who thought he could explain everything about why some people live in poverty because he had glimpsed a flat screen TV through the open door of a house trailer. And remember the guy who was shocked to learn from the census that a high percentage of people living in poverty have refrigerators?
The purpose of the increases in revenue that liberals are looking for are is precisely to pay for programs designed to increase the level of “social capital.” As for the transfer payments to middle and upper income seniors, yes, they should be means tested and that has been on the table every time Democrats have tried to work out a comprehensive settlement with Republicans.
Here is what I think Obama’ campaign message should be no matter who eventually wins the Republican nomination: Give me a Congress I can work with so that we can all get back to the center and do what has to be done to provide opportunity and security for every member of our society.