You probably know that Mitt Romney is trying to reinvigorate his campaign. The new strategy is supposedly to project what Romney would do if elected. Instead of talking down the Other Guy he is going to come clean on his Big Plans.
I will bravely predict here and now he will do no such thing. In our current political environment no presidential candidate can afford to talk about Big Plans in a candid or courageous way.
It’s a staple of presidential campaigns that pundits urge candidates to offer sweeping and detailed plans to clean up our problems. In recent days David Brooks and Tom Friedman, two commentators I greatly respect, have expressed great frustration that Obama has offered nothing so grandiose. Brooks wants him to explain how he will lower American debt and reform Medicare, while Friedman wants him to offer a plan to rejuvenate our economy, fight global warming, and rebuild our infrastructure along green lines.
I’m all in on wanting such plans, as these are genuine and deep problems. I know, however (as these pundits surely do too), that no sane American politician would offer such plans. It’s all pain and no gain in our political environment. The details would be seized on, distorted and treated as if they represented a deliberate assault on American virtue.
Don’t believe me? Think of the caliber of debate on Obamacare. Death panels, anyone? Government takeover?
Or consider Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare. It’s been reduced to a single word: “vouchers.”
It might be worthwhile to offer grand plans if they would be met by counter-proposals leading to a legislative process and a bipartisan compromise. That’s simply not going to happen. The last thing Republicans want to do is offer an alternative to Obamacare, and the last thing Democrats want to do is spell out how to reform Medicare. No, wait, the truly last thing either party wants to do is to offer a concrete proposal for dealing with debt and deficits. (No, Ryan hasn’t. Not until he tells us where the cuts will go and which tax deductions will disappear.) Neither party wants to offer such specificity on plans that will surely include pain.
Now, it’s nice to blame the political process, the political parties, and the politicians for this state of affairs. Surely at some point, however, we have to blame ourselves. We the American people–and I think this applies to all of us–have developed an inordinate fondness for dessert without vegetables, and for bumper sticker attacks on the people we disagree with. We punish politicians who spell things out. We prefer to talk in slogans. So for the foreseeable future, we are stuck with muddling through.