By Bill Boyarsky
The Republicans want to make the presidential race about values, which they define as returning the nation to Victorian morality, laissez faire economics and a heavy dose of conservative Christian theology.
As Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich compete for conservative Republican votes, they have subjected us to rehashing long-settled issues, such as contraception, abortion and in Santorum’s case, separation of church and state, stay-at-home moms and the worth of higher education.
(My apologies for not listing Ron Paul, the only anti-war candidate, but I don’t think he will win the Republican presidential nomination.)
Even more depressing are the Romney, Santorum and Gingrich plans for the future, as best illustrated by Romney, the current favorite to win the Republican nomination after his victories in the Michigan and Arizona primaries. In Michigan, where he won the popular vote narrowly but split the delegates with Santorum, he outlined his crimped vision in a post-Michigan-primary speech.
“I have a plan that will restore America’s promise through more jobs and less debt and smaller government,” he said. “President Obama is making the federal government bigger, more burdensome and loaded. I’ll make it smaller and simpler. And it’s about time for that to happen.
“He raised the national debt. I will cut, cap and balance the budget. He passed Obamacare. I would repeal Obamacare. He lost our AAA credit rating. I’ll restore our AAA credit rating. He rejected the Keystone Pipeline. I’ll get us the oil from Canada we deserve.
“And by the way, I’m going to open up our lands for development so we can finally get the energy in this country that we need at a price we can afford.”
All this plus reducing taxes for the affluent and big business.
And all this in a state where the crucial auto industry was saved by the Obama administration bailout, which Romney has criticized as a giveaway to the autoworkers.
Earlier in the day, Obama spoke of his own values and how they relate to working people when he told a United Auto Workers meeting in Washington that “the auto industry is back. I believed in you. I placed my bet on the American worker. And I’ll make that bet any day of the week.”
Recalling the concessions the UAW made in the negotiations over the bailout, he said, “You want to talk about sacrifices. You made sacrifices.” Obviously speaking of Romney and the other Republicans, he said, “I keep hearing these same folks talk about values all the time. You want to talk about values? Hard work, that’s a value. Looking out for one another. That’s a value. The idea that we’re in it together and I’m my brother’s keeper and sister’s keeper. That’s a value.”
Like Romney, he talked about creating jobs. But where Romney reduced it to a bookkeeping exercise of simply cutting taxes and the size of government, Obama recognized America has suffered through a historic recession, and it will take more than a tax cut for the rich and deregulation to pull the country out of it.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go before everybody who wants a good job can get a good job. We’ve got a long way to go before middle-class Americans regain that sense of security that was slipping away long before the recession.
“Now is the time to keep our foot on the gas, not put on the brakes. And I’m not going to settle for a country where just a few do well and everyone else is struggling to get by.”
He said, “America’s not just looking out for yourself. It’s not just about greed. It’s not trying to climb to the very top and keep everyone else down.”
I know enough not to be carried away by speeches. I was suspicious of the Obama “hope” speeches during his 2008 campaign. Hope was too vague a word for me.
But I also know that in certain times in history, words matter, as they did in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address gave hope to a nation shattered by the Depression:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves, which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
It wasn’t easy. There were twists and turns, along with a 1937 relapse. And recovery didn’t really take off until the nation began rearming for what became World War II. But from most every account of those days, hope—that vague word—had come to the nation, along with the slow climb back.
That is why the two speeches Tuesday—Obama’s and Romney’s—were important, because of the values they expressed. Their words showed where they would take the country.
One expressed faith in working people, like those on the General Motors, Chrysler and Ford assembly lines. The other offered the vision and values of a conservative bean-counting management consultant, eager to close down factories, fire workers and get a big bonus for doing it.
AP / Gerald Herbert
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Thursday.