The Campaign Spot

‘His whole campaign has centered around tapioca.’

In the midweek Morning Jolt . . .

Romney’s Bold, Groundbreaking Form of Hesitation

Oh, come on, Mitt. Come on.

Look, if you want to equivocate a bit, fine. If you want to say that you understand that Ohio’s public-sector employees probably feel surprised and stunned that their traditional way of operating is no longer tenable, and that they’ve been misled for decades by politicians of both parties who engaged in a conspiracy of complacency to suggest, year after year, that the status quo was fine and that constant increases in pensions and benefits could continue indefinitely, fine.

As Walter Russell Mead put it:

But if the Mama Bear New Democrats serve their porridge too cool, the Papa Bear Republicans like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich risk serving it too hot.

Polarizing politics and demonizing state and local government workers is not a good idea. It is unfair for one thing; it is bad politics for another. Toxic blue model legacy costs are the problem: rigidly bureaucratic government structures, unrealistic costs, years of underfunded pension plans, regulations that choke growth and initiative, outdated progressive ideas about how change works — these are the roots of our problems, not the middle school teacher down the street or the retired post office worker living modestly on a pension that may be underfunded but is hardly a bonanza.

The fifty year old teacher, fireman or police officer may have been naive to believe his or her union leaders, the politicians and the journalists who all said there was nothing to worry about — but most of those workers cannot be called “greedy” or “selfish”. They are victims of a complex, multi-player Ponzi scheme and have been lied to by a lot of people for a long time. They also face some serious financial costs. Not only are their pensions likely to be less generous and solid than they were led to expect; they may well face layoffs and wage freezes as states struggle to cope with legacy costs.

In other words, if you fear that Kasich’s reforms are going to go down hard this November (as some polling indicates), and you’re wary of associating yourself too closely with what you fear is a lost cause, you can always use the “noble ends, but possibly flawed means” two-step. It would irk some conservatives who fume at hesitation and equivocation, but at least you’re giving Kasich and Ohio Republicans credit for striving for the right goal, a less expensive, more efficient, streamlined state government.

But this, Governor Romney? This?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stepped into the middle of the charged battle over organized labor in Ohio on Tuesday, but he avoided weighing in on the contentious legislation that would dramatically limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.

The former Massachusetts governor visited an Ohio Republican Party phone bank in the suburbs of Cincinnati, where GOP volunteers were contacting voters about two hot-button measures that will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. One of them, Issue 2, would ratify Senate Bill 5 — the controversial legislation backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that curbs collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Another measure, Issue 3, would amend the state constitution to forbid the state and federal government from imposing a mandate to buy health insurance.

Romney expressed generic support for Kasich’s efforts to curtail union rights, but he would not say whether he supports or opposes the specific measures.

“I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said, only after repeated questions from reporters. “Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to reign in the scale of government. I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.”

Erick Erickson: “Playing it too safe is finally biting Romney in the rear end. He’s refused to call Social Security a ponzi scheme. He’s refused to offer bold economic reform plans. He’s refused to address significant changes in entitlement reforms. His whole campaign has centered around tapioca. . . . Typically, when a politician stands for nothing except his own election, he winds up not getting elected.”

Bytor, at Third Base Politics, a blog that focuses heavily on Ohio politics, hears opportunity knocking: “This opens the door for one or more of Mitt Romney’s rivals. Candidates like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry might want to think about packing their bags and heading straight to Ohio. Standing behind reasonable efforts to help struggling cities and schools control their costs could give their campaigns a much-needed shot in the arm with the conservative voters that vote in primaries.”


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