What's bad for Romney could be good for America

Telling the truth may not get the GOP candidate elected, but it should earn him the lasting gratitude of his nation.

By MSNMoney partner Apr 13, 2012 12:37PM

By Edward Glaeser

 

Rick Santorum's withdrawal from the race seems to make Mitt Romney the inevitable Republican presidential nominee. As the former Massachusetts governor turns to the general election, I have a modest proposal for him: Don't try to win the election. Try to change America instead.

 

Romney should give up on contorting himself to please voters, for America and the Republican Party desperately need a leader who will put truth above popularity, and honestly discuss the costs of the benefits he promises.

 

If nominated, he will have our attention for the next seven months, which is a great gift. If he uses his visibility to tell voters only what they want to hear, he loses the ability to shape the nation. He could use the election to promote honest accounting and a culture of responsibility, which would earn him a permanent place in the American pantheon whether he wins in November or not.

 

He starts as a significant underdog. President Barack Obama has natural political skills, a powerful organization and can claim to have shepherded the U.S. through calamitous times. Intrade.com gives Romney only a 37 percent chance of winning the national election. Unless the most recent jobs report portends a further weakening of the economy, the president will be hard to beat.

 

Big gambles, like going for two-point conversions or choosing an unknown Alaskan governor as a running mate, are the right strategy when the status quo means defeat. Romney will need to shake things up; let's hope he gambles on traveling the high road rather than the low, with appeals to anti-China hysteria and the like. Let's hope he follows the risky route of Henry Clay and Wendell Willkie, who both preferred being right to being president.

 

In 1940, Willkie did far more good for the world by losing well than he could have achieved by dishonorably winning the White House. Before Pearl Harbor, there were plenty of America First isolationists, and Willkie could have brought out his base by charging President Franklin D. Roosevelt with war-mongering. Yet, while he occasionally waffled, Willkie generally limited his appeals to isolationism, making it easier for FDR to continue aiding England in its darkest hour, and to challenge Japan. Willkie's electoral sacrifice probably also helped ensure that America would enter World War II as a more united nation.

 

Romney can do something similarly noble today, by choosing an election strategy that puts America's interests ahead of his own. Any reform of our political system, and our society, needs to start with a culture of responsibility -- a broad acceptance that we need to pay for our pleasures. The Bill of Rights didn't promise us cheap gas or toll-less highways or the right to every new medical innovation at no cost.

 

Republicans want lower taxes; Democrats want more publicly funded services. Both views can be honorably defended, but it is hard to respect Republicans who promise lower taxes without explaining clearly what spending will be cut, or Democrats who want an ever-expanding public sector, paid for with someone else's money.

 

We cannot sensibly decide if we want bigger or smaller government without first acknowledging that lower taxes must eventually mean fewer public services, or that more public activity must eventually impose costs on the private sector.

 

Romney's campaign website contains the high-sounding phrase "We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in." But while his economic plan clearly spells out the tax cuts that will let voters take home more cash, it is woefully lacking in details about who will pay for those lower taxes, beyond imposing block grants for Medicaid. The proposal calls for capping the federal budget at 20 percent of gross domestic product, but contains no discussion of how those funding cuts would materialize.

 

This reticence about spending cuts isn't limited to Romney. The 2013 blueprint presented by Paul Ryan, the Republican representative from Wisconsin who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, seems so fresh precisely because the U.S. has a surfeit of politicians, on either side of the aisle, who promise benefits without costs. Ryan may cut taxes and spending too much, but at least he has put forward an adult document that tries to grapple with the debt rather than just passing on problems to the next generation.

 

The Republican Party lost its credibility on fiscal discipline decades ago, but Obama's vast deficits (justifiable or not) have given his opponents an opportunity to regain the mantle of responsibility. To recapture that role, Romney needs to openly acknowledge that tax cuts only come from meaningful reductions in public services, and make the case that the cuts in services are worth the cuts in taxes.

 

Once Romney starts to own those service reductions, he will begin to appear more like a leonine leader and less like just another ambitious pol. Maybe, he can even start a fiscal-honesty trend. Medicare (USBOMDCR) costs are the biggest budget buster, but politicians view supporting limitations on public health care as only slightly less career-threatening than expressing sympathy for Iran's nuclear ambitions. If Medicare must be an open-ended entitlement that gives every citizen the right to the publicly funded purchase of every new medical procedure, then the free market will ensure enough medical innovation to bankrupt the nation.

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower must have been palpitating in his grave when Republican leaders started referring to modest attempts at public cost containment as "Death Panels." Ryan has proposed a brave, but unpopular, plan, to eventually replace Medicare with a voucher system that would limit costs to taxpayers.

Romney's Plan

 

At first, Romney noted that "the plan put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan makes important strides in the right direction by keeping the system solvent and introducing market- based dynamics," but his campaign then followed up with this: "As president, Romney's own plan will differ, but it will share those objectives."

 

If Romney wants to lead, he must risk more by telling more. But leading through honesty goes beyond the budget to the economy as a whole. I share Romney's view that private entrepreneurs are the wellspring of economic innovation, and I also see much to like in lower taxes and limited regulation. But these policies are no guarantee of economic prosperity, especially for lower-middle-income Americans. A candidate who would lead must ask Americans why they think they are entitled to good jobs at high wages, when there are better-trained workers in China who are willing to work harder for less money.

 

If Americans expect to be paid more, they must have more human capital -- the formal skills and ephemeral talents that make people productive. If we want our children to be as prosperous as those of the Pacific Rim, then we must put in the same hours teaching core math and science skills.

 

Our basic economic system is better than any state capitalism alternative, but it cannot ensure that less-skilled Americans will permanently out-earn better-trained international competitors. America needs leaders who will force the country to face its options honestly. Lower taxes mean less public health care. Too little time doing algebra with your children means they will be less prosperous than future competitors in the labor market.

 

Telling the truth may not get Romney elected, but it should earn him the lasting gratitude of his nation, and that is ultimately far more valuable.


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198Comments
Apr 16, 2012 10:37PM
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THere is nothing wrong with helping our elderly and people that are down and out and need a little help. The problem is the abuses. But than look at the role models. Our government is stealing from us. And taking money from special interest groups even when it means we the people eat poisoned food.Until we stop the abuses in Washington; nothing will change! And the change needs to come from both parties. If people would make ALL polititians accountable and stop protecting just one party; maybe we would get some REAL change!
Apr 16, 2012 4:50PM
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All I want is a honest, thoughtful, respectful, caring, understanding politician with the Fortitude to do the right thing, not because it is politically correct, but morally right.
 But that is a lot to ask for. Considering the crap that a person has to go thru, why would anyone
want to be president?

Apr 16, 2012 4:12PM
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You people need to check out factcheck.org.  It is truly depressing how they all, both democrates and republicans, at the very least stretch the truth.  I think what the story above is trying to express is that here we are with another presidential election and hoping that someone can take the high road and tell americans the hard truths.  The fact of the matter is we have to reduce spending and increase reveue and none of that is going to come without pain.  One or the other will not work and any economist worth his weight will tell you that.  Problem is americans don't want to hear the truth regardless of what side they are on.  They have their own special interests and looking at the big picture without rose colored glasses is impossible for most.

 

Apr 13, 2012 6:36PM
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Gradittude for what? Having a pulse. Or, maybe for avoiding taxes by moving his money to the Caymen Islands. Now that's very patriotic.
Apr 16, 2012 4:51PM
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Honesty from political candidates should not be limited to Presidetial candidates and certainly not to any partcular party. It's time that American voters are told some kind of truth by both sides so that they can judge for themselves who presents a better solution for the current problems while understanding that no permanent solution can be at hand while the Congress is so bitterly divided and the parties are concerned principally with making sure the other fellow looks bad. Further, voters, tune out the TV and Radio personalities. Listen to reason, do some homework and we'll all be further ahead. 
Apr 16, 2012 9:04PM
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I live in Massachusetts and was here when Romney was Govenor and dispite the fact this state is the Silicon East of the country with some of the best paying jobs in the country we were ranked 47 in the country during his term in office. I would feel much more confident if one of this country's better qualified CEO's stepped up to the plate and ran for president. Romney is a Hedge Fund Manager for heaven sake. Look up his job discription.
Apr 16, 2012 2:58PM
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Our schools stink, we are turning out morons. Our government is about pork barrel spending and payoffs for cronies. Our entrepreneurs, our best and brighest are heading for other countries where capitalism is growing and socialism and communism are shrinking. Our capital is fleeing and those who work and create jobs are searching outside of the USA for better opportunities. No one works to have their money seized by a corrupt government who wants to redistribute it to the able bodied lazy. We need to help the aged, the mentally disabled, and the children. Everybody else can either get to work or to job retaining or to school. Dear God, Save our nation from the morally insufficient and the corrupt, the lazy and the those who are here to help us (government). .  
Apr 17, 2012 8:01AM
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I would love to see WE THE PEOPLE wake up and realize how much this country has been divided by being labeled as a Dem or Repub. In my opinion, both are both words that need to be eradicated from our vocabulary. The more they shoot off of the mouth with the garbage that gets the attention of the media, the more they continue to keep us focused on the crap and not the real issues affecting us. Which never conveniently get addressed. It is US (the voting public) against THEM (elected idiots). That needs to change. Take away their perks (free health care, pension, free travel, food, lodging) and impose term limits. And why should they be paid top dollar for doing nothing? Cut that salary down to the average working man's salary. And they can't vote raises for themselves either. Take the incentive out of being a career politician. See how many actually want the job?
Apr 16, 2012 10:48PM
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Anyone who is 100% Democrat or 100% Republican is not trustworthy or realistic.
That just doesnt make sense...
Apr 16, 2012 9:58PM
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The Republican Party used to be the party that valued education; there used to never be any questions about science theory/fact; they used to be fiscally responsible; they used to work across the aisle for the good of America; and they used to be isolationist in at least their initial reaction to armed conflicts overseas. 

If Romney were to make all those things happen again, ok, I'll buy the argument...but not if the argument is we have to decimate the country further now to save a theoretical future as envisioned by Paul Ryan

Wanna fix the country?

Dramatically cut the military budget

Get out of Afghanistan...and don't go in anywhere else

Raise income via tax increases to pay for the money we spent on those wars

Reinstate value of science and education and support it

Nationalize Health and control its costs; (yeah, it'll requiring rationing - no 71 yr old Veeps getting hearts and no 89 yr olds getting back surgery)

Get rid of subsidies to Big Oil and the like - their corporate welfare more than equals the amount paid for all the (admittedly ridiculous) welfare and disability claims put together

Start charging equal tariffs on Chinese goods as they charge on ours.

Apr 16, 2012 2:30PM
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...unfortunately, Romney is an opportunist and has already changed his stance on issues to fit the hype of the day.
It would be nice to see a Republican that truly represented the old GOP. The days of Orin Hatch and Ted Kennedy drinking together and respectfully expressing differences on the floor seems lost.
Was it Santorum or Paul that called him a phony?...to the author's point even other Republicans see this. 

Apr 16, 2012 4:21PM
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To me its simple... It's not my place to pay for someone else to have kids, electricticy, gas, healthcare, etc... If they put money in the system they should get money out.... If you arent a american citizen you shouldnt be able to get any benefit from tax dollars, medical or social.... To many people are milking the system because they are to sorry to work and think they have the golden ticket now by being on the draw..... I saw everyone on the tax payers dime must be drug tested... if you fail... no more benefits for 5 years.... fail again for life..... one child is all that is paid for... I cant afford a child or health insurance that is worth having and I work for a billion dollar business....so why should i pay so someone not working can have better than I do ???? Cut the programs... the free cell phones,, the clothes... the pop and lobsters being bought on food cards..... WE ARE A CAPITAL COUNTRY NOT A SOCIAL ONE !!!!!! I work and I want my money to spend as I see fit... not the federal or state or county or school or city governments to waste as they see fit...
Apr 16, 2012 7:02PM
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The same hours teaching core math skills I can overlook as I'm quite sure you wrote

this some hours before Mr Romney announced with pride that the Dept of Education

would be on his chopping block, but surely you do not actually believe that the factory

workers in China and or the pacific rim got their jobs due to their superior math and

science skills?  

Apr 16, 2012 8:59PM
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If the reason you are not hireing is taxes, you don't have to worry. Because you have no idea how to run a business so soon you will have none under your employ.

You hire people because it makes you money. You fire people because they cost you money. For example, I run a pizza shop. I can make 4 pizza a hour (again, this is example, I have no idea how many pizza a guy can make in a hour). But I have the demand for 20 pizza a hour. If hire 4 more people who also make 4 pizza a hour to make more money. Here is the tricky part: The guys I hired are making me money. Lets say 100 dollars a hour each. Taxes go up to 50%, I do not fire them because they are still making me 50 dollars a hour. Taxes go up to 80%, they are still making me 20 dollars a hour. there is no reason to fire them until taxes are 100%. If demand goes down to 16 pizza a hour, I let a guy go or reposition him because hes not making me money.

If taxes go up, I make less money. But firing/not hiring someone because of tax level makes no sense at all. Firing and hiring is related only to demand of product at hand.

Apr 16, 2012 3:21PM
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JP050 is right on target.  The American people probably knows what needs to be done where everyone has to give a little.  The rich should pay more taxes and even the middle class could pay a little more.  Also, the entitlement programs need to be reduced.  YET....let one politician tell the American people that and they wouldn't win more than 20% of the popular vote!
Apr 16, 2012 7:45PM
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Claudius, I have now had the time to read through your rants and see that actually you make my point for me quite well. You are European born and you read and write in 4 languages?  Why don't American children have the same type of educational system that would allow them to learn to read and write in 4 languages?  Actually as an employer, I would be happy to see them be able to read and write in English. Ok, so you ask what is it I suggest we do for the American education system that would allow it to be improved. We do what your teachers did for you and follow the same plan of discipline and standards required of students in foreign countries that have higher standards.

 

In 13 industrialized nations, America rates last in educational levels in math, science, language, reading and writing, sounds like a problem for the future of American businesses.   

Apr 16, 2012 5:37PM
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save-america--do you know what the word "socialist" means?  I see that you don't know the difference between their, there, and they're, so I'll guess you don't.

 

Socialism is when everyone goes in together to pay for something because paying for it individually would be cost prohibitive, or when a certain service is provided via the government and paid for by everyone because that service is so needed that the provider could run up the cost to the point that some would be bankrupted.

 

Here are some examples of "socialism" in the US--federal highways, public school systems, fire fighters, police, air traffic control, military.  Of course, there are the two obvious ones: Social Security and Medicare. That's just a few examples.

 

Remember that countries with unbridled capitalism aren't very pleasant places to be--the wealthiest people live behind fences and bars--with certain areas of a city or rural area gated off for their use.  They pay for their own security--any government police force or military is in their pockets and will shoot to kill anyone who is not wealthy who causes a fuss.

 

Anyone who is not wealthy either has to be very, very circumspect and stay out of the way of the wealthy people, or lives in perpetual danger of being found and shot.

 

Remember that on one side of the political spectrum is absolute monarchy, on the other side is anarchy--in between, you will find socialism and democracy (some people say the US is a Jeffersonian Democracy and some say it is a federalist republic--oddly, the federalist republican types are against states' rights), pretty much side by side.

 

While, of course, it would be bad to make all services government-run, it is also a bad idea to allow the wealthiest people to control anything they can grab--I don't think it would be a great idea to allow them to grab all the water, for example.  It sure as heck hasn't been great to allow them to grab all the energy production (energy production tends to be socialized in Europe).  So, in any case, first figure out what it is that you are talking about--and then learn to proofread, as not knowing what you are talking about or how to express yourself clearly doesn't make you look good.

Apr 16, 2012 8:52PM
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Small business owners "the job creators" are not going to hire employees because they pay higher taxes. They will hire more workers when the demand for goods and services is there and the quote 'middle class" non job creators create the demand for the goods and services. How simple can it be.
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Interesting, readers look for accurate information on candidates, and you give us opinion. We don't seek your opinion, we would like to get good clear information on the cadidates. Something meaningful. Try to show us how he voted on issues.
Apr 16, 2012 6:31PM
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I would like to see a candidate how would just tell it like it is rather than making promises, then later to open the big book of real issues and decide right then "oh, i see, they're right! It cannot be done the way I promised. Hmm, i guess I have four year of pointing fingers".
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