A different Democrat, or a Republican, would have put together a different kind of stimulus package, and probably (probably) a smaller one, but the wrongheaded thinking behind it is hardly revolutionary. Cash for Clunkers and Solyndra are the most characteristic of President Obama’s initiatives, marked as they are by fanciful thinking, cronyism, and futility. But President Obama presses the Right’s buttons in more or less the same way President Bush pushed the Left’s, and that is about something other than (or in addition to) his policy choices. It is about who he is. At this point, Democrats will say, in that smug way of theirs: “And who he is is black, and that’s what this is all about.” I am not such a Pollyanna (or so deaf) as to believe that the tone of the president’s skin is a complete non-issue among his most bitter critics, but it is a much smaller issue than Democrats such as Eric Holder would have you believe.
Mitt Romney’s critique of President Obama is not that of Newt Gingrich, who has borrowed Dinesh D’Souza’s formulation that Obama’s views are grounded in the “Kenyan anti-colonialism” of his estranged father. Nor is it of the “Hitler Believed in Government-Run Health Care, Too” variety one hears among the lesser luminaries of talk radio. Romney’s critique is that Obama is a manager in way over his head, that he does not know what he is doing, and that his attempts to solve problems he does not understand are making things worse. This seems to me the more credible explanation. But if you are the sort of person who believes that President Obama is trying to destroy America, then Romney’s rhetoric is bound to prove unsatisfying, and you will go seeking sterner stuff — from Gingrich, from the cannier Rick Santorum, from also-rans such as Michele Bachmann or future also-rans such as Rick Perry, or from Ron Paul, if that’s your thing. Among my correspondents, there are many who are very plain about the fact that they would rather lose with Gingrich or Santorum than win with Romney.
Conservatives who suspect that Romney isn’t really in his heart of hearts one of us probably are correct. He doesn’t smell like a right-winger. But, given the cultural aspects of the presidency mentioned above, there may be some advantages to electing Mr. Plain Vanilla, assuming that he can get himself elected. It is very likely that whoever the next president is, he will be working with a Republican Senate and a Republican House, albeit a Republican House that may have a few fewer Republicans than today’s. If Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell wish to send the White House a balanced-budget deal, a President Romney might have an easier time negotiating it than would a lightning-rod President Gingrich or President Santorum, because it will feel more like a piece of prudent fiscal legislation than like a partisan assault on all that Democrats hold sacred and dear. The package could be precisely the same, but the politics change considerably depending on who is signing the bill into law. And, inconvenient as that fact is, there are going to be Democrats around in 2013, probably a lot of them. If you think that we can balance the budget and reform entitlements while ignoring them, you are kidding yourself.