In a typical two-party race, movement by one candidate toward, say, the left would induce the opponent to move toward the center. That is the natural process, as both candidates strive to secure and motivate their bases and then to capture the median voters so as to secure a majority. That observation, hardly original, obviously is a severe simplification of the positioning dynamics inherent in our presidential-election system, as shaped by the incentives imposed by the electoral college to forge broad geographic coalitions. But I believe that it is essentially correct and consistent with the historical evidence.
What is fascinating about the emerging Obama/Romney race is a developing dynamic that is very different: As Obama moves ever more toward the left — for purposes of motivating his base, because of his ideological beliefs, etc. — Romney has been induced to move toward the right. He is defending capitalism. He is talking about actual cuts to and elimination of (unspecified) programs. He has pledged to repeal Obamacare notwithstanding the various goodies (and sound bites) that it offers for various constituencies. Etc.
#more#Why is this? I think that it is the result of the nature of Obama’s particular brand of leftism. He is not merely a tax-and-spend, big-government, chicken-in-every-pot liberal full of compassion for the downtrodden, who understands nonetheless that resources for government use must be extracted from the private sector, which therefore must be allowed to grow. Obama is much more than that. He really believes that it is government that is the source of wealth, and he demonstrably is not a socialist, in that he is quite happy to leave the means of production in private hands as long as they do the government’s bidding. And if they do not — if they resist paying their “fair shares,” if they are stubborn about not investing in such boondoggles as green energy, etc. — then they are representative of the greed, parochialism, and myopia that government must overcome by coercion, and more broadly have received rewards greater than actually justified because of infrastructure and other fruits of government’s effort.
In short: Whether or not Romney really believes his emerging rhetoric about freedom and capitalism — and I believe that he does — Obama’s political/ideological outlook, a leftist radicalism obscured in 2008 by the hope-and-change buncombe, has forced Romney to become the champion of traditional American individualism and liberty. My hunch is that this ideological divide will become clearer as the campaign evolves; and that (1) the choice of a running mate (Paul Ryan) who would sharpen that distinction, (2) the delivery of a convention speech highlighting it and its implications, and (3) a debate performance that does the same, will yield in October the same movement in the electorate that we observed in October 1980. Romney as Reagan? Who would have thunk it? Whom do we have to thank? Obama!
— Benjamin Zycher is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.