In Marc Thiessen’s column about Mitt Romney v. Rick Perry, Thiessen writes this:
If Perry fails to implode and continues to surge in the polls, Romney eventually will have to go on the attack — an assault his advisers say will commence “at a time of our choosing.”
Romney strategists are quick to note that in his book, “Fed Up!,” Perry writes that “By any measure, Social Security is a failure” and calls the program “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now” that was created “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”
Look at what happened to Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when he proposed a plan to save Medicare, they say. Romney’s campaign will argue that Perry is against the very idea of Social Security and Medicare, and that he will use Perry’s book to scare seniors in early-primary states with large retiree populations, such as Florida and South Carolina.
That is quite a revealing statement by the Romney strategists – and hopefully one not shared by Romney himself, who surely understands the nature of the fiscal problem we face. Whatever the case, let’s take up the challenged by the Romney strategist and look at what happened to Representative Ryan, who proposed a far-reaching reform of Medicare.
The GOP caucus in the House almost unanimously supported Ryan’s reform. It passed in the House and allowed Republicans to point to a concrete and intellectually serious alternative to what the president is doing. And Ryan himself is a star within the conservative movement, to the point he was urged by influential figures to run for president in 2012 (he declined). He has helped to reshape the debate about entitlement reform. And his plan became enough of a marker that when Newt Gingrich foolishly attacked it, his campaign for president effectively ended. Gingrich spent a week on the conservative talk radio circuit backtracking from his attacks.
To put it another way, four months after Ryan’s plan was introduced, it is nothing like the political liability many people thought it would be. In fact, the public’s attention remains focused on the debt and the deficit as well as job creation; “Mediscare” tactics haven’t gained any traction at all (but not for lack of trying by liberals). All this might change, but based on what we know at this juncture, Ryan and his plan are doing rather well.
My concern about the remarks made by Romney’s aide is it reveals a disquieting temperament and cast of mind – specifically an unwillingness to reform, in a serious and structural way, a program (Medicare) that will cause fiscal and economic ruin for America unless its basic structure is altered. There are different ways (and even different plans) to go about reforming Medicare. But if the Romney campaign’s attitude is it will succeed by more or less avoiding the topic of Medicare, except when speaking about it in the most shallow and banal way, then it needs to be called out for its timidity. We all know there are serious political dangers in tackling entitlements. But a responsible governing party (and its nominee) needs to confront – and declare he is willing to confront – not only our easiest problems but also our most urgent and important ones.
The president who succeeds Obama needs to have deep commitment to re-limiting government and rolling back the modern-day welfare state. That is what this particular moment calls for. And that simply isn’t possible if you avoid Medicare. A posture of bold fiscal conservatism is simply not compatible with timid evasions on Medicare reform. That is a reality the Romney campaign should consider internalizing, and soon.