Obama's Santa Claus Presidency

Mitt Romney was castigated last weekend for comparing Obama to a Santa Claus who bought votes by showering presents on the electorate. Even conservatives had their feathers ruffled. Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, George Will and Susana Martinez -- all of whom I admire -- interpreted Romney's remarks as insulting to voters. Jim Geraghty at NRO's Morning Jolt summarizes:

Reading [Romney's remarks], we can only conclude that Romney's "47 percent" comments were not a gaffe or slip of the tongue but actually represent his genuine assessment of the nature of the American people right now. A president with that worldview wouldn't keep it under wraps for a four-year term, and it is a good thing for the Republican party and the conservative movement to not have to defend a president who effectively writes off nearly half the country as lazy and selfish, and even more important, unpersuadable, unreformable, and unchangeable. Put me strongly in the Bobby Jindal/Marco Rubio/Susana Martinez camp in the discussion of these enormously unhelpful comments from Romney. Again, it would have been better for the country if Romney had won, but this noble-us-and-those-hopeless-others worldview would have proved a serious liability for a Romney presidency.

Rush Limbaugh -- who set the Santa Claus metaphor in motion the day after the election -- spent the better part of Monday's show trying to understand the pushback. One of his quotable lines: "Accusing the Democrats of buying votes with taxpayer money is like accusing Toyota of making cars."

My own two cents: Limbaugh and Romney are entirely correct, but the situation is more complex than the superficial characterizations of the Santa Claus remarks.

It's true that a significant percentage of the population looks to government as Santa Claus. Some legitimately need assistance -- the disabled, the elderly, single mothers, those temporarily down on their luck. Republicans have never opposed a safety net for these people.

But that unfortunate woman braying about how Obama gave her a free Obamaphone, the woman a few years ago asking Obama for a new kitchen -- these are not isolated incidents. Every time the left invents a new "right," it creates a voting bloc demanding government protection and provision of new benefits. Welfare cheats driving Cadillacs, students demanding free college education, double dipping government employees, crony capitalists feeding at the government trough, corrupt SEIU thugs, and lazy people on disability are not phantasms of hardhearted conservatives.

In my state, local talk radio is abuzz with Governor Deval Patrick's announcement that illegal immigrants would be granted in-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts. If you think New England is 100% leftist, listen to the furious parents from Vermont and Maine paying full tuition at UMass while "Mini-Me" Patrick gave a Christmas present from the taxpayers to illegal immigrants.

The Santa Claus metaphor is illuminating: children believe that Santa Claus magically brings free gifts. Mature people over the age of ten recognize that these gifts come from parents and others who sacrifice (some more than others) to purchase things for their children. Liberals in the metaphor are children who believe that, yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch. A Canadian friend recently explained that Canadian health care was superior to America's because both his parents had eye operations and "it did not cost them a thing." Translation: Health care is a basic human right, so it's not fair if my well-to-do 85-year-old parents have to shell out a couple thousand bucks for eye operations. The only fair system is one where free eye operations are doled out by Santa Claus.

However, and it's a big however: I don't believe that Obama won a second term by collecting votes from shiftless people who depend on government largess. I don't know what the numbers are, but I'd guess that the "lazy and selfish" populationis way less than Romney's infamous 47% figure. The problem is not that a majority of Americans cast their votes selfishly, but that too many perceive Republicans as being selfish, that a vote for Democrats is a vote to help the less fortunate.

I've met small business owners who by any measure of sanity ought to be clamoring for a Republican president, who acknowledged that Romney would have been better for their private economic interests, but who think that paying higher taxes is their Christian or Jewish or socialist or -- in Joe Biden's word -- patriotic duty.

Or hardworking entrepreneurs who voted for Obama because Republicans have no compassion for the pregnant 16-year old in Louisiana lacking money for the bus ride to a Texas abortion clinic if Planned Parenthood closes doors.

Or college students who believe that gay rights are equivalent to civil rights, and voting for Romney would be like standing with Bull Connor.

We're facing a mass of educated Democrats who demand little from government beyond what they think they paid for, but who voted to expand government against their economic self-interest. They have prospered under American capitalism and they want to give back and they believe that big government is the compassionate choice. They don't want gifts from Santa Claus; they want to feel like Santa Claus themselves. After all, tis better to give than receive.

When these people -- productive makers who act out of misguided compassion -- are lumped in with the takers, they feel insulted, and rightly so.

How to proceed then? It's a tough sell. Self-reliance is no longer a virtue today in Emerson's liberal town of Concord, MA. Encouraging initiative and hard work is easily slandered as callousness: those YOYO Republicans tell the unfortunate"you're on your own." Any attempt to rein in spending is impugned as eliminating government entirely. Time Magazine's 1994 cover called Gingrich "Uncle Scrooge" with the subtitle, "Tis the season to bash the poor." Obama said in October, "We're told by our opponents that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing." These crude exaggerations are laughable, but the press repeats them and too many voters believe them.

We have to convince voters that it's not a "drastic cut in services" to maintain government at its current Leviathan size rather than allowing it to continue expanding. That condemning generations to a life of dependence on government is not compassionate, nor is 8% unemployment. That the true spirit of Christmas Present is to encourage success over dependence. That the best Christmas present is a job.

And of course we have to continue to maintain our safety nets, provided by family, church, private charities and, yes, government agencies.

These all require nuanced arguments easily undermined by the ruthless demagogues on the other side. It won't be easy.

Mitt Romney was castigated last weekend for comparing Obama to a Santa Claus who bought votes by showering presents on the electorate. Even conservatives had their feathers ruffled. Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, George Will and Susana Martinez -- all of whom I admire -- interpreted Romney's remarks as insulting to voters. Jim Geraghty at NRO's Morning Jolt summarizes:

Reading [Romney's remarks], we can only conclude that Romney's "47 percent" comments were not a gaffe or slip of the tongue but actually represent his genuine assessment of the nature of the American people right now. A president with that worldview wouldn't keep it under wraps for a four-year term, and it is a good thing for the Republican party and the conservative movement to not have to defend a president who effectively writes off nearly half the country as lazy and selfish, and even more important, unpersuadable, unreformable, and unchangeable. Put me strongly in the Bobby Jindal/Marco Rubio/Susana Martinez camp in the discussion of these enormously unhelpful comments from Romney. Again, it would have been better for the country if Romney had won, but this noble-us-and-those-hopeless-others worldview would have proved a serious liability for a Romney presidency.

Rush Limbaugh -- who set the Santa Claus metaphor in motion the day after the election -- spent the better part of Monday's show trying to understand the pushback. One of his quotable lines: "Accusing the Democrats of buying votes with taxpayer money is like accusing Toyota of making cars."

My own two cents: Limbaugh and Romney are entirely correct, but the situation is more complex than the superficial characterizations of the Santa Claus remarks.

It's true that a significant percentage of the population looks to government as Santa Claus. Some legitimately need assistance -- the disabled, the elderly, single mothers, those temporarily down on their luck. Republicans have never opposed a safety net for these people.

But that unfortunate woman braying about how Obama gave her a free Obamaphone, the woman a few years ago asking Obama for a new kitchen -- these are not isolated incidents. Every time the left invents a new "right," it creates a voting bloc demanding government protection and provision of new benefits. Welfare cheats driving Cadillacs, students demanding free college education, double dipping government employees, crony capitalists feeding at the government trough, corrupt SEIU thugs, and lazy people on disability are not phantasms of hardhearted conservatives.

In my state, local talk radio is abuzz with Governor Deval Patrick's announcement that illegal immigrants would be granted in-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts. If you think New England is 100% leftist, listen to the furious parents from Vermont and Maine paying full tuition at UMass while "Mini-Me" Patrick gave a Christmas present from the taxpayers to illegal immigrants.

The Santa Claus metaphor is illuminating: children believe that Santa Claus magically brings free gifts. Mature people over the age of ten recognize that these gifts come from parents and others who sacrifice (some more than others) to purchase things for their children. Liberals in the metaphor are children who believe that, yes, Virginia, there is a free lunch. A Canadian friend recently explained that Canadian health care was superior to America's because both his parents had eye operations and "it did not cost them a thing." Translation: Health care is a basic human right, so it's not fair if my well-to-do 85-year-old parents have to shell out a couple thousand bucks for eye operations. The only fair system is one where free eye operations are doled out by Santa Claus.

However, and it's a big however: I don't believe that Obama won a second term by collecting votes from shiftless people who depend on government largess. I don't know what the numbers are, but I'd guess that the "lazy and selfish" populationis way less than Romney's infamous 47% figure. The problem is not that a majority of Americans cast their votes selfishly, but that too many perceive Republicans as being selfish, that a vote for Democrats is a vote to help the less fortunate.

I've met small business owners who by any measure of sanity ought to be clamoring for a Republican president, who acknowledged that Romney would have been better for their private economic interests, but who think that paying higher taxes is their Christian or Jewish or socialist or -- in Joe Biden's word -- patriotic duty.

Or hardworking entrepreneurs who voted for Obama because Republicans have no compassion for the pregnant 16-year old in Louisiana lacking money for the bus ride to a Texas abortion clinic if Planned Parenthood closes doors.

Or college students who believe that gay rights are equivalent to civil rights, and voting for Romney would be like standing with Bull Connor.

We're facing a mass of educated Democrats who demand little from government beyond what they think they paid for, but who voted to expand government against their economic self-interest. They have prospered under American capitalism and they want to give back and they believe that big government is the compassionate choice. They don't want gifts from Santa Claus; they want to feel like Santa Claus themselves. After all, tis better to give than receive.

When these people -- productive makers who act out of misguided compassion -- are lumped in with the takers, they feel insulted, and rightly so.

How to proceed then? It's a tough sell. Self-reliance is no longer a virtue today in Emerson's liberal town of Concord, MA. Encouraging initiative and hard work is easily slandered as callousness: those YOYO Republicans tell the unfortunate"you're on your own." Any attempt to rein in spending is impugned as eliminating government entirely. Time Magazine's 1994 cover called Gingrich "Uncle Scrooge" with the subtitle, "Tis the season to bash the poor." Obama said in October, "We're told by our opponents that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing." These crude exaggerations are laughable, but the press repeats them and too many voters believe them.

We have to convince voters that it's not a "drastic cut in services" to maintain government at its current Leviathan size rather than allowing it to continue expanding. That condemning generations to a life of dependence on government is not compassionate, nor is 8% unemployment. That the true spirit of Christmas Present is to encourage success over dependence. That the best Christmas present is a job.

And of course we have to continue to maintain our safety nets, provided by family, church, private charities and, yes, government agencies.

These all require nuanced arguments easily undermined by the ruthless demagogues on the other side. It won't be easy.