15 August 2012
'We have to have regulation:' Has Romney lost the libertarian vote?
Still on the defensive under relentless rhetorical attack from the Obama re-election campaign, Mitt Romney is trying to stay on message, the message being that the attacks from the Obama campaign disgrace the Presidency and prove that the President is trying to stir up hatred (i.e. class envy) in order to keep power. The problem with Romney's approach is that he can't resist answering the specific attacks. The latest was the Vice-President's strange charge from yesterday that Romney, by deregulating "Wall Street," would put ordinary Americans "back in chains." There is a justification for such rhetoric available, though I'm not sure if Biden availed himself of it -- ideologically motivated deregulation, should it occur, would be a shackling of the citizenry through its denial of the people's right to regulate the market. Biden didn't need to say this, however, since Romney, in the midst of his daily indignation, denied any deregulatory intentions. Specifically, the Republican said: "Of course we have to have regulation on Wall Street and on every street to begin with." That's from a Republican source, the Washington Times. CNN revises and extends Romney's remarks, reporting the candidate as saying: "Of course, we have to have regulation on Wall Street and on every street to make sure our country works well." It may not have been Biden's plan, but his attack provoked Romney into wandering off the ideological rez again. The Republican will have ample opportunity later to distinguish between necessary and oppressive (or "job-killing") regulations, but his presumed electoral base is less likely to make such distinctions; they seem never to have met a regulation they didn't hate. Some, at least, may have their suspicions reinforced that Romney is just another big-government hack at heart. Who knows whether more potential Romney voters are turned off by such statements than potential Obama voters are dissuaded by Romney's protests against negative campaigning? The ferocity of the attacks on Romney does Obama no credit, the plausible deniability provided by campaign-finance law notwithstanding -- though Democratic hardcases like Sean Wilentz might argue otherwise. But if there's any chance of Romney exploiting whatever outrage exists at the most extreme attacks, he hasn't yet figured out the right way to take advantage. He'd be better off staying above the fray and leaving the scolding to surrogates and strategists, but we shouldn't expect anything different from a reactionary, I suppose.