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An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

3:15 PM, Sep 10, 2012 • By PETER J. HANSEN
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Regarding Medicare, as Paul Ryan says, Republicans can (and must) win this debate.  But we haven’t done so yet.  Here too, more details are needed.  People should know when Medicare will go bankrupt if it is not reformed, and what percentage of the economy it will consume in a generation or two if it is supported by other revenues.  They should know that your plan preserves traditional Medicare as an option even for those under 55, although you think other options will give future seniors more choices and more money.  People should know that those other options will be regulated, so that seniors will not be exploited by clever operators.  Moreover, you must rebut forcefully, vigorously, and repeatedly the claim Bill Clinton made in his speech, that Obama is somehow strengthening Medicare by taking $716 billion out of it.  Paul Ryan also needs to rebut Clinton’s claim that he supported Obama’s approach.  (It’s a huge difference whether that money was counted as future savings for the Medicare trust fund, or diverted away to pay for a new program!)  Your campaign has the money and the time to ensure every voter knows that Obama took $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, that the claim that this will affect providers but not beneficiaries is absurd, and that you never supported doing anything like this.

It is still possible to convince voters that you will do a better job with the economy than President Obama has, but telling people you’re better qualified isn’t enough.  To some extent, as writers are often told, you need to show it, not tell it.  And one way to show it is to demonstrate competence and mastery in discussing a range of economic issues.  Give voters the feeling that you really know how the economy operates, how the pieces fit together, what works and what doesn’t.

I will add a few smaller points.  I think it helps when you talk about China, and I suggest you do so more often.  China has been manipulating its currency for a long time, to the detriment of our workers and our economy; it is preposterous that no administration so far has forcefully responded.  Why don’t we institute a 25 percent tariff on Chinese goods unless and until it allows its currency to float freely on international markets?

Second, the GOP has been talking a lot about tax cuts for a long time.  While this is an important issue, our discussion of it has perhaps reached the point of diminishing returns politically.  If we start talking more about China, about Medicare, about replacing Obamacare with something better, about growth through reducing regulation and red tape, about Keystone, people will be impressed.

Third, Obama obviously gains from the claim that your tax cuts will mostly benefit the rich and will increase the deficit.  Might you be more specific about some of the loopholes you would close to pay for those tax cuts?  I suggest you start with the ability of people in hedge funds and private equity firms to declare income as capital gains.  (Even I, the president of a small financial services firm, resent that one.)  Voters this year seem to feel they confront a choice between the candidate of welfare and the candidate of Wall Street.  Anything you can do to recast yourself as the candidate of Main Street will help.

Finally, I hope you don’t back off on your criticism of Obamacare.  In my opinion, the requirement that insurers write policies for all comers is a grave mistake—it encourages people to wait until they are sick to buy policies, and thereby forces people who behave responsibly to pay for those who don’t.  Maybe you disagree about that.  But to weaken your criticism of Obamacare at this point might make it seem to people that you’re not really strongly opposed, and that the Democrats didn’t do so badly in ramming it through Congress.

I wish you luck.  It is important that you win this race—not merely in terms of jobs now, but also in terms of the self-reliance and character of the American people in the future. 

Best wishes,

Peter J. Hansen

Peter J. Hansen is president of Hansen Capital Management, Inc., in Lexington, Virginia. He last wrote for THE WEEKLY STANDARD on Occupy Wall Street and Obamacare, and is also an independent scholar and teacher of political philosophy. 

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