Since the Republican National Convention wrapped up last week, the Romney/Ryan campaign has abandoned its brief pretense of running a positive campaign based on leveling with the American people about serious issues. It’s back to all attacks on President Obama, all the time. On Tuesday they issued multiple press releases gleefully celebrating President Obama’s giving himself a grade of “incomplete” on his first term. On the campaign trail and in interviews Ryan has repeatedly asserted, as Romney argued in his nomination acceptance speech at the RNC on Thursday, that President Obama cannot tell the American people they are better off than they were four years ago. (As Media Matters points out, cable news channels, especially Fox News, have complicitly repeated this charge without offering context of the economic freefall we were in when President Obama took office.)
A close examination of the GOP’s major speeches from last week shows that even their nominally affirmative case for small government was internally inconsistent. The crucial applause lines actually undermined their arguments. Between that, and their immediate return to unvarnished negativity, it is clear that the Republican Party simply does not have a positive conservative message for this election cycle.
The RNC was supposed to be filled with homage to the virtues of private enterprise. But both of their main speakers on Thursday night—Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mitt Romney—implicitly made the case for the necessity of government instead.
When it comes to exhorting a nation to collective democratic action, private equity investment can seem a bit lacking. As anyone who watched the biographical video of Romney on Thursday night noticed, investing in a chain of office supply stores just isn’t that inspiring.
Perhaps that’s why when Romney tried to summon memories of America’s supposed mid-twentieth-century greatness, he talked about a government program. Although he never actually used the acronym NASA, that’s what he was talking about when he said:
When President Kennedy challenged Americans to go to the moon, the question wasn’t whether we’d get there, it was only when we’d get there.
The soles of Neil Armstrong’s boots on the moon made permanent impressions on OUR [emphasis in original text] souls and in our national psyche. Ann and I watched those steps together on her parent’s sofa. Like all Americans we went to bed that night knowing we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world.
God bless Neil Armstrong.
Tonight that American flag is still there on the moon. And I don’t doubt for a second that Neil Armstrong’s spirit is still with us: that unique blend of optimism, humility and the utter confidence that when the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.
Nothing about this reflects the advantages of limited government. The space program is a governmental endeavor, not the work of some plucky businessman. Its success illustrates the virtues of collectivism, not individuality. Indeed, Romney’s kicker: “you need an American,” makes no sense. Neil Armstrong did not get to the moon by himself. What the moon landing shows is that for “the really big stuff” you need the American government.
Similarly, Rubio said, “Mitt Romney knows America’s prosperity didn’t happen because our government simply spent more. It happened because our people used their own money to open a business.” But as anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of the modern economy knows, the vast majority of new businesses are not opened entirely with the proprietor’s own money. Rather, they borrow money from a bank or—as Romney would surely point out—venture capitalists. This in turn, necessitates a functioning banking system. As we have learned over the years, a functioning banking system requires governmental institutions such as the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.