Romney's Challenge: Convincing the Electorate That They're Not Children
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I attended a barbeque. It was thrown by some friends of ours who are pretty well-off financially, and they hosted it at their large house that backs up to a lake. Everyone seemed to have a good time, but on the trip home, something that my seven year-old son said from the back seat of the car caught my attention.
"It's not really fair that they have a lake in their backyard," he declared.
I asked him what he meant, and he explained that it wasn't fair that our friends had a lake, when we didn't.
Such reasoning is pretty much expected from a seven year-old. In the mind of a child whose naive understanding of personal wealth lacks a level of comprehension that won't form until later in life, it's a perfectly logical deduction: They have something I don't have. That's not fair!
There are a few approaches a parent can take to address such an impulsive conclusion. Some would probably do what I did by taking the opportunity to try and teach their child, in simple terms, about the fruits that are earned and enjoyed through hard work. Others might decide that the topic is a bit too complex to take on until their child is a little older. What I think is very unlikely, however, is that a parent would respond with something like this: "You know what? You're right. It's not fair."
Even at a time when a large percentage of Americans are hurting financially and are worried about their future, I have trouble believing that any responsible parent would reinforce, to their child, the infantile belief that the concept of unfairness is defined by materialistic envy.
Perhaps that's why I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up whenever I hear our president trying to convey that very supposition to the American electorate. After all, they're made up of grown adults... not children. Still, President Obama does this it at every opportunity, and it's remarkable to see him so comfortably conduct a narrative that most of us would simply feel too unscrupulous to try and serve to our children.
Yet, it seems to be working. National polls show that the unsavory practice is one of the few messages coming out the White House that the public seems to be buying into. We have a president who vilifies the wealthy for having things that the rest of us don't. He claims that there's a moral responsibility that justifies the stripping of more of their wealth (beyond the obscene amount they already pay to the government) to prop up broken systems that far too many Americans have been made dependent on. These narratives resonate with a large number of people because President Obama's definition of fairness has tapped into the inner-child of a lot of adults. It's a sad and alarming thing to see.
Unfortunately, the garbling hasn't stopped at the topic of fairness.
When listening to President Obama, we also hear the overturning of other conventional, virtuous traits that we work so hard to instill in our kids. We encourage our children to take responsibility for their actions while he spreads the message that it's acceptable to assign blame elsewhere for his failures. We tell them not to put off until tomorrow what they can do today, while he repeatedly kicks the can down the road on the most dire economic issues of our time. We teach them the importance of a strong work-ethic while he asserts that our worth is measured not by results, but by whatever demographic we happen to fall within.
With so much talk in the news lately about the president "evolving" on issues, it's fascinating to note how regressive he's been on the basic, coming of age wisdom that all of us should have acquired before we were of legal voting age.
Ironically, it's the chronically weak environment of the Obama economy that has worked in the president's favor when it comes to successfully drawing out our adolescent instincts. Too many people in this country have felt beaten down in recent years, while they've struggled to keep their heads above water. It's an incessant climate that our country had avoided for the better part of three decades. It's unfamiliar territory, and there seems to be no relief on the horizon. At some point, the thought of giving up and relinquishing our responsibilities to the parental apparatus of the welfare state becomes an attractive alternative to self-reliance.
That's what Mitt Romney is up against in this election. It's a battle between serious issues which need to be addressed and the exploitation of the inner child of the human psyche.
Four years of President Obama have not only propelled our country in an economically dangerous direction, but also a culturally dangerous one. We've regressed into a society where self-interest is no longer conjoined with personal accountability.
The debate needs to "man up" and the electorate needs to "man up" if things are going to improve, and Mitt Romney's going to have to find a way to sell that message. Rolling back the juvenile naivety that President Obama has woven into our discourse won't be easy. It will, however, be necessary.