Mitt Romney famously said before the election that 47% of the electorate would never vote for him because they do not pay taxes. Now, after the election, he has reportedly said that he lost because Barack Obama had bought people off with gifts.
One point that needs to be made, but has not, is that the idea that classes of people are motivated purely and reflexively by their materialism–that they can and will only live for their pocketbook–is Marxist in origin. It does not belong to Adam Smith. While Smith recognized that people were driven by self interest, he saw the resulting competition as something that would bring freedom of choice. Marx denied that people had freedom of choice–to him, people were materialistic creatures through and through. They would always, only support their self interest, unless they were lulled to sleep by that dreaded opium of the masses, Christianity.
This is not at all to say that Romney is a communist, only that his thinking is muddled. The Marxist view of people and history has had an inordinate, subtle effect in many areas of university study and fields of endeavor that are otherwise unrelated to politics–and to their detriment, as little if anything that Marx ever said was correct.
Romney–and many Republicans, for that matter–seem to have a warped view of people. By seeing people as being driven only by self interest, Romney never really explained the ideas behind his platform. Rather, he merely pointed to the latest unemployment and GDP figures, and the price at the gas pump, and said, “See! Aren’t you tired of this mess? I can do better than this.” However, without explaining how or why his program might help, he was not able to close the deal. All of the polls since the election have shown that many people did not vote for him because–while they acknowledged the economy was in bad shape–they had little confidence that Romney would do a better job than Obama. Yes, people are driven by self interest, but they are also driven by ideas. Romney appealed only to their self interest, and failed to close the deal. He needed to bring more to the table.
On top of this, there were whole sectors of society that Romney–and many Republicans–gave up on, as he judged that it would never be in their self interest to vote for him. Yet, because he gave up on them, polls show that not just these groups, but other groups as well, saw Romney and Republicans as heartless. This was another reason why people did not vote for the GOP this year. However, it is not a materialistic concern at all–people simply want to think that their president cares what happens to them. Romney did not give them that feeling.
For all of his faults, Obama ran a campaign that was very much based on ideas. Yes, he dispensed goodies along the way, but his appeal to the young and to African Americans was not solely an appeal to their economic self interest. If it had been, Obama would have lost the election. Were these groups deceived into thinking that it was in their economic self interest to vote for him? Certainly, they were deceived. However, Obama’s pitch was not really about the economy. Indeed, he tried to stay away from that issue as much as possible, and polls show that very few people think that Obama’s policies will make the economy better. Rather, Obama worked hard to give people multiple reasons to vote for him, some economic, but many related to social policy and ideas, and people responded.
Robert Stacy McCain asked yesterday on Twitter if anyone really supported the idea of having their taxes raised to pay for grandpa’s Viagra. No doubt the vast majority of conservatives would agree with McCain that it is a dumb idea. However, it is by no means certain that young university graduates, who have been hit inordinately hard by unemployment and who may not pay much if anything in the way of taxes to begin with, will see this as a dumb idea. Indeed, they may think that the state should provide them with Viagra when they are old and need it. While there is some self interest in this equation, there is also an idea: cradle to grave subsidized health care, not just for the individual, but for the people as a whole. This is one of the ideas that Obama ran on, and it resounded with various sectors of society. Maybe some people do think that grandpa should have his Viagra.
Finally, there is something extraordinarily arrogant about Romney and his minions that very much relates to this discussion, and that many people perceived even if it was missed by most conservatives. It was mentioned in this blog during the primaries, but for the sake of unity I did not harp on it afterwards. Romney appears to be one of these business types who believes that if one throws enough money at an idea and hires the right people, any problem can be solved. Thus, if one hires the right marketing people and is willing to spend enough, one could sell freezers to Eskimos living in igloos. While it might not be cost-effective, it could be done.
During the primaries, when Romney was running against poorly financed competitors, this strategy worked. Though in truth, Romney’s burn rate was on the moon, and he and his team had to resort to gaming the system in order to drag his sickly campaign across the finish line. If Romney had run against opponents who were even slightly better funded–say at one fourth the funding of his campaign rather than one tenth or less–then he would not have become the nominee. This was well demonstrated by the general election, where he was running against a competitor who was more evenly matched in funding. That Obama could beat Romney despite his massive incompetence and the poor state of the economy is a tribute to the fact that–despite what Romney somehow believes–money cannot buy everything. Indeed, people are motivated by more than just money, economics, and self interest, and find themselves turned off by the idea that someone else thinks that they can be bought.
And this is exactly what Romney appears to think, which is yet another reason why many people did not vote for him.