Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia, in a critique of Romney’s campaign strategy, quotes the candidate:
Once we thought ‘entitlement’ meant that Americans were entitled to the privilege of trying to succeed in the greatest country in the world. Americans fought and died to earn and protect that entitlement. But today the new entitlement battle is over the size of the check you get from Washington.
But after reading Edsall’s summary, “The Anti-Entitlement Strategy,” I look upon Romney’s position more favorably. Why? First, I disagree with the very definition of the world entitlement. Second, ponder this little nugget of data from the recent Government Accountability Office’s fiscal 2011 financial statements, as noted by Bryan R. Lawrence, founder of Oakcliff Capital, writing in today’s WaPo:
In fiscal 2011, the cost of the promises grew from $30.9 trillion to $33.8 trillion. To put that in context, consider that the total value of companies traded on U.S. stock markets is $13.1 trillion, based on the Wilshire 5000 index, and the value of the equity in U.S. taxpayers’ homes, according to Freddie Mac, is $6.2 trillion. Said another way, there is not enough wealth in America to meet those promises.
Two points. First, I doubt that Romney would, if able, gut all of the entitlement programs. (He will not be able.) When asked during a debate which federal departments he would abolish, he gave a serious answer – that each department did some things worthwhile, and that we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Thus, the valuable programs currently performed by a department must first be identified and then assumed by another department, agency or office, before the department could responsibly be abolished. I assume the same sobriety would apply to Romney’s position on entitlement spending.
Second, not all entitlement programs are transfers to “parasitic” “sloths.” He may have to trim down the rhetoric. Even so, he will be the adult in the room when debating Obama, who has responded to both the current depression and the forthcoming entitlement-fueled default by giving speeches and proposing to tax private jets.
Romney’s adoption of an anti-entitlement strategy comes at a time when he appears to be looking up from the primaries toward Election Day, which suggests that his hard-line stance will be central to his campaign against Obama and not just a temporary maneuver.
Let’s hope that this is not only an election strategy, but a blueprint for governance.