Forget everything you thought you knew about the 2012 Presidential Campaign. Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate turns a dreary, negative, small-ball campaign into a once-in-a-generation, articulate attack on the beliefs and assumptions underlying the Democratic Party’s core articles of faith.
Predictably, a herd of smug liberals breathlessly share the news that inside the Obama Campaign they were “gleeful” about Romney’s “mistake,” in picking Ryan, the author of the GOP House budget proposals that, using their word, “slashes” all the goodies they think voters cherish more than liberty, more than truth, more than the very solvency of the government. But the smug ladies and gentlemen apparently have paid no attention to even the most recent political history.
To best understand the last 4 – 5 years and where the 2012 Presidential campaign will go from here, consider some observations first articulated by Seventeenth Century military scholar Carl Von Clausewitz, author of an exhaustive treatise on the philosophy of war, who wrote:
War is a mere continuation of politics by other means
Many have observed the obvious corollary, politics is war by other means. For nearly a century America has been a major battle field where two ideolgies face off in political war. The contenders are liberty as expressed in the Declaration of Independence Vs. authoritarian government control wrapped in the false promises of comfort and security in a utopian economy, constructed and supervised by the political elite. Since 2008 the long ideological war has intensified from occasional skirmishes to continuous attacks and counter attacks staged on the Internet and TV screens.
Clausewitz also observed that war and politics are a “fascinating trinity.” National War College Scholar Christopher Bassford summarized Clausewitz’s trinity. Both Politics and war are:
…a dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces of violent emotion, chance, and rational calculation.
I first learned of Clausewitz and his fascinating trinity long ago in an Army classroom where I was taught about military strategy and combat tactics. I remember little else from that class, but through decades of analyzing politics I’ve found that Clausewitz’s insights are always relevant.
Barack Obama wasn’t a sure winner in 2008 until he was aided by chance in the form of the sudden, unanticipated economic crisis six weeks before the election. He effectively expressed the violent emotions of voters overwhelmed by incomprehensible financial news. Thus, those voters elected a President from the authoritarian side of the war, a man with virtually no relevant experience, whose intentions and governing philosophy had not been fully disclosed.
Obama’s rational calculation was to use the crisis as a pretext for an overwhelming legislative and regulatory offensive, on several fronts at once. He used Chicago style, hard-ball, political tactics to drive an agenda of government control over the allocation of private economic resources through sweeping interventions into health care, finance, and energy production.
But before the disastrous results became apparent Obama and his people made the classic mistake of inexperienced combat commanders. Because they did not understand Claueswitz’s dynamic and inherently unstable interaction of forces, they quickly became arrogant and overconfident. They did not anticipate the violent emotion of the populist fear and rejection of their initiatives, the political equivalent of live grenades rolling around the floor.
In the spring of 2009 chance, in the form of a widely rebroadcast, unscripted rant by CNBC bond market commentator Rick Santelli gave first voice to what became the Tea Party movement. Leaders on the Liberty side made their own rational calculations, and skillfully channeled the backlash into the most astounding counter-attack and sudden reversal of fortunes in a century of political war, the 2010 Congressional election. Democrats’ 98 vote majority gave way to a 43 vote GOP majority. Almost all of the seventy new Republican representatives were aligned ideologically with the tea party movement.
Fast Forward to the 2012 Presidential campaign. The first rational calculation of the Liberty side, as represented by a timid Mitt Romney was to assume the Obama economy was so disastrous, his defeat was all but inevitable. Romney embarked on what by 2012 standards was a polite, muted campaign, presenting himself as the competent executive with business experience that the incompetent, Obama team lacked. He would “fix” the economy and “the mess in Washington.” He largely avoided specifics or ideological language.
Obama’s strategy and tactics were and still are dictated by his circumstances. ObamaCare was unpopular and his regulatory and spending initiatives failed to bring back the promised prosperity. So his only possible rational calculation was to try to convince voters that Romney was morally unacceptable. It appears that Ronmey underestimated the strength and fury Obama would bring to the strategy of transforming envy of the rich into violent emotions of resentment and hate.
The selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate indicates that Romney made a new set of rational calculations:
- His strategy of standing aside and letting the economy motivate voters against Obama was a failure;
- Democrats always call Republican candidates extremists and would hang the E word on anyone Romney picked for his running mate;
- Obama would insist that the budget Paul Ryan developed as chairman of the House Budget Committee was exhibit one in his case against alleged extremism;
- Of all the politicians Romney could possibly consider there is no better spokesman for those budgets, or for Conservative economic principles than Paul Ryan.
Thus, America has arrived at the moment of maximum volatility in Clausewitz’s dynamic, inherently unstable interaction of the forces.
Romney and Ryan will emphasize first principles, opening new offensives in the war of ideas. Their mission will be not to chant vacuous, poll driven soundbites, but to use Reagan style persuasion to lead voters to an understanding of why ObamaNomics has failed and the grim reality the nation faces if the folly continues.
The gaggle of commentators and opinionists celebrating Romney’s “dumb” decision see the ticket in static terms, as fixed targets, vulnerable to Obama’s simplistic warnings of “painful cuts.” They assume a shopworn Democratic tactic, “Medi-scare” will work again, for the umpteenth time. Just tell seniors those other guys will destabilize Medicare in unspecified ways and the fear reaction bring them and the must win state of Florida to Obama.
But suddenly, the GOP ticket is transformed and is anything but a static target. As my friend Drew said yesterday, “let the games begin.”