A Fight Over Fairness

A few weeks ago, Amanda Marcotte described the Romney team as running an “I’m rubber, you’re glue” campaign, where—instead of addressing the claims against him—the former Massachusetts governor turns them around on his opponents. It’s a brilliant formulation that neatly captures a dynamic that—if Romney’s riff on “fairness” is any indication—will become a defining feature of his presidential campaign:

“We will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the very taxpayers they serve,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “And we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next.”

It is all part of a concerted strategy to try to reverse perceived campaign weaknesses for Republicans as the general election campaign launches.

I doubt this will convince anyone other than true believers, but that’s not the point; the idea is to muddy the waters when it comes to coverage of Romney’s message. By attacking Obama on “fairness,” Romney can force the press to bring a horse race dynamic to the opposing claims—“Mr. Obama says that it’s unfair for multi-millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families, but Mr. Romney says that what’s really unfair is the burden of debt.” The issues aren’t actually sorted out, and Romney walks away with minimal scrutiny.

As an aside, I will say that there is some truth to Romney’s claim. Tax cuts for the wealthy are a major driver of short-term debt, and if we keep rates low on high-income earners—as Romney proposes—we will pass a tremendous amount of debt to future taxpayers. Rather than use federal dollars for education, infrastructure, or research, we will give it to the wealthiest Americans, and leave the next generation to deal with the consequences of high debt and a deteriorating society. That’s unfair.