The eight-ring circus known as the Republican presidential primary contest can be an amusing spectacle, especially for Democrats who can't get enough of Rick Perry's chronic gaffiness and Herman Cain's futile efforts to cloak himself in the mantle of virtue.
Seriously, though, there's a 50-50 chance that on Nov. 6, 2012, Mitt Romney
will be elected president since the GOP's far-right disdain for the country-club
Mormon candidate is exceeded only by its rage at President Obama.
Romney, anointed as "The Serious One" by conservative intellectuals like
columnist David Brooks, still covets the respect, if not affection, of the GOP
base. A week ago today, he attempted to curry their favor by tacking even
farther to the right in a speech that even slice-and-dice politicians like U.S.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the influential chairman of the House Budget Committee, would
Acknowledging the caveat that the former Massachusetts governor's policies
are perched on quicksand, let's assume that he has now outlined his rock-solid
Here's what a President Romney would propose:
-- Turn Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that assists the poor and
disabled, into a solely state-run program that would subsist on reduced payments
from Washington ("block grants"). Given the precarious finances of many states
and the ideological insistence by some governors on letting the less-fortunate
fend for themselves, the program would be gutted.
-- Slowly increase the eligibility age of future Medicare and Social Security
recipients and add "means testing" so that the well-off would receive less, an
idea well worth exploring.
-- End all government subsidies to Amtrak, meaning rail travel would be
-- Carve deeply into funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and
Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that helps support NPR, PBS
and their affiliated stations, and the Legal Services Corporation that affords
the indigent representation.
-- Cut $300 million in subsidies for family planning and tests for sexually
transmitted diseases and cervical cancer, because the money indirectly supports
"abortions or abortion-related services.''
In a speech to the Defending the American Dream summit of Americans for
Prosperity -- the political advocacy group funded by the notorious brothers
David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch -- Romney made a blatant appeal for support
from the core of the Republican right:
"There are some who are going to argue that fiscal responsibility is
heartless and immoral. No, what's heartless is to imperil our children, and
what's immoral is to imperil the strength of a nation that was founded under God
and preserved by his hand.''
No surprise, coming from a tough-minded business leader whose Bain Capital
investment firm forced companies to slash their work forces, a policy Romney
defended by arguing that "sometimes the medicine is a little bitter but it is
necessary to save the life of the patient. My job was to try and make the
enterprise successful, and in my view the best security a family can have is
that the business they work for is strong."
Romney is clever. He's issuing detailed proposals on the economy, standing
aside from the brawl that's engulfing the other candidates.
His Medicare proposal is rather bizarre, however, since it would offer future
seniors a choice between Medicare as it now exists and private insurance
coverage. Why would anyone choose to pay $10,000 a year or more for coverage
from profit-hungry insurers instead of government care that costs a fraction of
that exorbitant amount?
Columnist Brooks called Romney's proposals "politically astute and
substantively bold," described the candidate's campaign as "impressive" and
characterized the Republican presidential race as a "Marx Brothers movie Mitt
Romney is Zeppo. He doesn't spin out one-liners. He's not the rambunctious one.
He's just the earnest, good-looking guy who wants to be appreciated."
Brooks, the most thoughtful conservative pundit, argues that "Romney is
running in an atmosphere in which it is extremely difficult to remain serious
and substantive. Yet he is doing it. Democrats should not underestimate him."
That's for sure. Disillusioned Obama supporters should take a close look at
Romney's proposals. Mr. Obama's best hope for a second term rests on a clear
understanding by Democrats and independents of Romney's real intentions --
rewarding his very wealthy backers and imperiling even further the vast majority
of the populace.
A year in advance, for what they're worth, the polls show Romney and Obama
running nearly even, with a slight advantage to the incumbent. Hope endures.