I remember when W. ran for president in 2000 on the platform of Compassionate Conservatism. The idea was that Republicans would embrace many of the social programs that helped the needy while still maintaining their free-market orientation. It was supposed to be a way to win an election, help the poor, and still scale back government. It worked on the first count. I’m not sure about the second. The third was a terrible failure. Let’s face it. We are in big trouble with our national debt. Compassionate Conservatism didn’t help. Hope and Change made it worse.
The self-evident problem is that we spend more money that we have. A lot more. Even if we embraced the President’s proposal to tax the richest 1% of Americans at a higher rate, it still doesn’t close the gap. Either we start taxing many more people at a much higher rate, or we come to the conclusion that we can’t sustain this any longer. Having spent last week watching the RNC convention in Tampa, I’m hopeful we might have turned a corner.
What struck me about the RNC Convention is the relative youth of the speakers. It’s a new generation of Republicans. Most of them are my age, rather than my father’s age. These new Republicans seem to have outgrown the Compassionate Conservatism of their baby-boomer parents for a more realistic Tough Love approve to politics. The theme of the convention so far has been that success is a product of hard work, the gravy train is over, and we have to live within our means. That’s a hard message to push when you are running against Santa Clause. But it’s a message that a younger generation of Americans seems ready to embrace.
Romney might just be the man to sell it. Romney is not a young man like Paul Ryan or President Obama, but his age works in his favor this election. At a time of national crisis, Romney is the more fatherly figure – steady, experienced, optimistic. It works with the Tough Love theme of the convention. Young Americans are eager for that sort of leadership, which explains why so many of them have flocked to grandfatherly Ron Paul.
Tough Love can be a hard sell, but it’s a personal message that most people can relate to and understand. All of us look back in our lives and remember the people who saw in us more than we saw in ourselves. The teachers we admire most were the ones that made life difficult for us, like my Mrs. Perez or Mrs. Flournoy. They were the “mean” teachers. And they stand in contrast to President Obama, who is like the cool, young teacher you had in school. He was good-looking, popular, and funny. Only later did you realize that he didn’t expect much from his students, and as a result, you didn’t learn anything in his class. I had one of those too.
Romney, by comparison, is like old Mr. Chips. He’s the teacher that people avoid because he’s a little distant and he’s demanding. After being forced to take his class, however, they slowly realize that he’s demanding because he sees their potential. He knows they can make something of themselves. And he knows that the only way to get there is through hard-work.
Sure Will Schuester is a popular teacher, but eventually our time for dancing down the halls ends; we take on adult responsibilities. And when those days come, we thank our lucky stars that Mr. Chipping saw more in us than we saw in ourselves.
With the Democratic Convention coming next week, I’m anxious to see which the American people choose – musical theater, or tough love.