Presidential candidates forgot about ordinary folks

by Ryan Streeter on November 15, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

My Star column this week makes the point that after the billions of dollars spent, all the debates, and all the speeches, the 2012 presidential race offered little to motivate ordinary people:

Ryan Streeter: Presidential candidates forgot about ordinary folks

Indianapolis Star

November 14, 2012

The most astonishing aspect of the 2012 presidential race was how little improving ordinary people’s lives was a regular theme. In the end we had two flawed candidates battling to convince Americans that the other guy’s vision would spell disaster. We never really learned how either candidate’s ideas would make life better for you, me and our neighbors.

That might sound a bit extreme, but think about it. President Barack Obama campaigned on helping the middle class; but other than his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest, can you articulate his plans for doing so?

Obamacare, perhaps? Clearly, the health-care law helps you if you have pre-existing conditions or are younger than 26 and still on your parents’ plan. But there are roughly 20 tax hikes in the law, many of which directly or indirectly affect working families. If you are self-employed, you already know how expensive the law will be. If you qualify for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance on an exchange, you will soon find out just how much insurance you can’t afford.

As for taxing the wealthy, Obama’s own budget office says his proposed tax increase on the rich will account for only $440 billion out of $1.5 trillion in new taxes he has proposed over the next 10 years — 29 percent of the total. The remaining 71 percent includes provisions that would hit the middle class, paid for in part by cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Obama was re-elected not because he inspired voters as in 2008, but because Mitt Romney failed to do so. Obama became the first president since Andrew Jackson in 1832 to be re-elected with a smaller percentage of the vote than he received in his first election. He won because Romney got less of the vote than John McCain in 2008.

Romney trotted out a number of policies, but none that ordinary people found especially motivating. He said he would repeal Obamacare and implement “revenue-neutral” 20 percent tax cuts, but in the end he never communicated clearly and empathetically how these ideas would improve ordinary lives. He beat Obama in three out of four candidate comparison questions in exit polls but lost to the president 81-18 percent on the question of whether the candidate “cares about people like me.”

This is why Romney lost, and it wasn’t a surprise. More than 18 months ago, many commentators predicted Romney would fail because he couldn’t convert conservatism into a language that regular voters understood.

It was this disconnect, not the demographic conundrum so many have said is plaguing the GOP, that led to Romney’s defeat. The National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru said it best recently when he wrote: “Men and women, whites and Hispanics, the young and the middle-aged . . . want politicians to offer a practical agenda to create jobs, raise wages and make health care and higher education more affordable. Most of them aren’t wedded to liberal answers on those issues. They will take them over nothing, and that’s what Republicans have been giving them.”

Aspiring candidates at all levels should learn from the lessons of 2012 and focus more on making life and business less expensive and opportunities more plentiful.

They might start by naming 50 regulations that through repeal or reform would add several hundred billion dollars back into the economy and create more freedom in daily life. Most long-term small business owners will tell you it’s harder to do business now than it used to be because of our growing regulatory state.

Candidates could also propose health-care solutions that restrain costs by giving families greater choice over their health care and insurance, rather than limiting choice and driving up costs, which is what we have now.

They could explain how government accreditation and regulations have contributed to the college bubble and promise to lower costs and raise quality by expanding the kinds of reforms states like Indiana and Texas are pioneering.

They might also lay out their plans for a tax code that favors entrepreneurs and families most of all. Those who invest in the future by taking business risks and having children should bear the lightest tax load.

The good news is all of these policy ideas have already been worked out by thoughtful, smart people. What’s needed are political leaders who can rally all of us ordinary folks around them.