I have been laying low about the whole 47% video, very much content to see big-time center-right thinkers like David Brooks lay bare the reality of the Romney-Ryan ticket’s adoption of the worst elements of conservative/libertarian social policy. Now, however, I am breaking my silence because another significant center-right figure, Michael Gerson, has written a column, “Ideology without promise”, for the Washington Post that I think misses the crucial point. While Gerson does go to great lengths to distance himself from the spirit of Romney’s 47% comments, and to suggest alternative rhetoric to replace it, he completely misunderstands the policy reality that the GOP’s Romney-Ryan ticket represents. He asks the right central question: Does the video reflect “Romney’s view of the nature of our social crisis?” but the muddled answer he gives is profoundly mistaken and very much at odds with David Brooks’ (correct) view. Instead of weighing the policy proposals, vice presidential selection and views of wealthy donors to the campaign—all things that would reasonably suggest whether or not the video is “Romney’s view”—Gerson falls back on a familiar center-right dodge. He claims without evidence that Republican politicians, chiefly Romney, are merely “mouth[ing] libertarian nonsense”, “parroting” Randian concepts and playing to “stereotypes” of conservative Republican ideology. Gerson suggests that Romney policies will be something different all together than the abundant rhetoric flowing from Romney, Ryan and GOP leaders. This hopeful view fits Gerson’s understanding that there are only a “few libertarians” in the GOP who actually believe this stuff, but Republican politicians and operatives have mistakenly turned to that rhetoric rather than the language of “Burkean conservativsm” and the “Catholic tradition of subsidiarity” to explain their policies and vision. Instead of seeing the GOP and the Romney-Ryan ticket as a reflection of the radical libertarian policies of the Tea Party movement Gerson believes that “Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he” is one of the “few libertarians” in the GOP.
Make no mistake, Michael and I would agree that if libertarian policies were the true nature of the Romney-Ryan ticket then it would be awful for the country. He rightly and eloquently says these views offer “No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change…relentless reductionism… Social problems…reduced to personal vices. Politics …reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.” Amen, I say. But where Gerson and I disagree is with his faith-based notion that Romney-Ryan do not actually share those views but are just speaking as if they do. It is striking to me that Gerson offers no concrete policy proposals from Romney-Ryan that show that they will govern in accordance with “Burkean conservatism” or “Catholic subsidiarity” rather than “ideology pitting the 'makers' against the 'takers'”. In the absence of facts and policies to buttress Gerson's faith I will continue to believe the words of David Brooks:
The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view…[and] doesn't have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.