Plymouth Notch, Vt. Two of my pundit colleagues — David Brooks of The New York Times and Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal — have written about this “boring” and “inconsequential” presidential campaign.
Perhaps the reason is that we’ve heard it all before. “There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote the author of Ecclesiastes, but that doesn’t mean old ideas that worked in the past can’t be updated and applied to our time.
Here in the birthplace of our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, an education center stands to promote his ideas and values (full disclosure: I serve on its National Advisory Board). Even Democratic politicians, including Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Independent Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, have made the journey to this frozen-in-time hamlet to honor Coolidge, if not always his principles. Some of Coolidge’s contemporaries may have found his reserved New England manner boring, but some moderns are starting to reconsider the economic rules and political standards by which he lived.
Another reason this presidential campaign has failed to ignite the public’s enthusiasm is that it seems more about politicians and their power and not enough about everyday realities; too many talking points and not enough getting to the point.
Following President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark, the Romney campaign produced TV commercials featuring small business owners sharing how they built their companies, often from scratch. The stories are interesting and compelling and it’s a tactic the campaign should use more often. Debating policies is academic. Showing real people who have been harmed by policies that aren’t working is how to connect with voters.
“All liberty is individual liberty,” noted Coolidge. That sounds strangely foreign in an age where the collective is becoming supreme. “It takes a village” has come to mean a government village, not a village of individuals helping each other with government intervening only when individuals are not enough.
Vermonters remain proud that after last summer’s floods they astounded FEMA by helping each other with greater speed and better results than government could produce. They call it the communitarian spirit. Neighbor is expected to help neighbor.
The Romney campaign should consider speeches and more campaign ads that feature people who have “made it” on their own, or who have overcome personal difficulties by embracing timeless truths. It should stop debating Democrats about tax “fairness” and start focusing on how much of our money government wastes. Republicans can never win a debate about “fairness,” even though it is unfair to disproportionately penalize the productive. Everyone understands waste, fraud and abuse. Romney needs an updated version of the “Golden Fleece Award” created by the late Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis, who highlighted wasteful government spending.
Two of my favorite Coolidge quotes should be modernized by the Romney campaign and sold to voters. One is: “I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.”
The other attributed to Coolidge: “Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody.”
If Romney and his fellow Republicans reminded voters of a time when government respected small business, individuals and their earnings, this campaign would get interesting and consequential real fast.