The most recent Republican presidential debate on jobs and the economy was notable for a number of things — the Perry brain freeze, Romney flubbing how many years he has been married, and Herman Cain’s spirited defense of himself against charges he behaved inappropriately toward women.
But the most important things to come out of the debate may have been the universal Republican rejection of further taxpayer bailouts of any sort and Newt Gingrich's one-sentence summary of the Republican case for change.
This is important because one can fairly trace the rise of the tea party to middle-class outrage about the taxpayer-funded bailouts that the Washington/Wall Street insiders engineered in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.
And it is important because as the candidates discussed jobs and the economy, it was surprising how often the discussion came around to past bailouts, future bailouts, or present expectations of bailouts. From the auto industry, to the financial crisis in Europe, to student loans, to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to the housing industry in general — directly or indirectly, the topic of bailouts was never far away.
When discussing bailouts, it is worth recalling that five of the eight major Republican candidates supported the 2008 TARP Wall Street bailout. Because of the tea party, however, it now appears they all oppose the potential bailouts looming on the horizon as Greece, Italy, and various other European countries teeter on the brink of financial catastrophe.
Naturally, opposing bailouts resulted in some major contortions on the part of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been on both sides of the auto bailout and TARP issues.
However, Romney’s comments on a possible mortgage bailout: “. . . exactly what would you do instead? Would you decide to have to have the federal government go out and buy all the homes in America? That's not going to happen in this country. Markets work. When you have government play its heavy hand, markets blow up and people get hurt . . ." set the tone for the entire discussion.
Of course, the question about Romney is not his analysis, but the likelihood that it will change if the wind or politics blows from a different direction tomorrow.
Even former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — the self-avowed centrist in the Republican field — stepped-up and confronted the auto industry bailout head-on by saying: “The people in this country are sick and tired of seeing taxpayer dollars go toward bailouts, and we're not going to have it anymore in this country.”
Huntsman's statement garnered a surprising amount of applause from the Michigan audience in the process.
While it was surprising to see Romney and Huntsman agree with the tea party on anything, it was former Speaker Newt Gingrich who brought the bailout discussion to its most concise and compelling conclusion. When asked about bailing out students who couldn’t pay their student loans, what Gingrich said in opposing such a bailout was, “We're at the end of the welfare state era of dependency, debt, distortion, and dishonesty.”
That, in a nutshell, is what this campaign is all about.
If Republicans convince voters that by electing them they will truly end the “welfare state era of dependency, debt, distortion, and dishonesty,” they can’t lose — but if voters become convinced that Republicans, like the Democrats, will only perpetuate the “welfare state era of dependency, debt, distortion, and dishonesty,” they will never win.
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