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The Meaning of the Romney Tape

5:20 PM, Sep 18, 2012 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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What Romney says here—and earlier—suggests a view that the poor are consigned to their stations in life forever and that their only hope is the government. That sounds instead like something that President Obama might say—and indeed has come close to saying. "I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart,” he said in the “context” to his “you didn’t build that” comment.  “There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help."  Both views, in their own way, minimize the importance of hard work. Romney seems to think that those dependent on government are hopeless because they'll never take personal responsibility; Obama thinks they can succeed only with government help and that no one succeeds without government help. 

What are the political implications of the tape? One effect will be to amplify the Obama campaign portrayal of Romney as an uncaring rich guy. It’s hard to say whether that will matter much. They’ve been hard at work at defining Romney that way for months and one suspects that most of those who accept that view or Romney were not likely to vote for him anyway.

Could it fire up conservatives? Perhaps. Some conservatives have already declared that they like this Mitt Romney better than the cautious, programmed one they’ve seen in public campaign events. They seem willing to look beyond the problems with what Romney actually said in their eagerness to embrace what they hope he meant.

The best case scenario is one in which Romney takes this gaffe, which was a rejection of the optimism that animates reform conservatism, and uses it to turn his campaign into an ideological critique of Barack Obama and an embrace of the bold solutions that give shape to reform conservatism.

Will it happen? 

“Politics is like sports,” Romney's chief strategist Stuart Stevens told Politico over the weekend. “A lot of people have ideas, and there’s no right or wrong. You just have to chart a course, and stay on that course.”

Really? If the course you're on isn't working, maybe you'd better adjust.

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