Some sort of (relative) sanity has returned to the Republican nomination race, with Mitt Romney finally managing to achieve convincing victories in Florida and Nevada, as party members recoil from the prospect of the humiliating defeat that would undoubtedly result if they were unwise enough to put Next Gingrich up against the incumbent President.
Can Romney beat Obama? From my European perspective the answer seems very clear; no, of course he can’t. Even though Romney appears moderate compared with the far right of the GOP, his conservatism, both social and fiscal, is so extreme that it is impossible to imagine him getting elected to high office on this side of the Atlantic; thus I can only assume that he has no chance in the US either.
There is a flaw in that reasoning of course, one that stems from an underestimation of the difference between the cultural underpinnings of politics in Europe and America.
In the Broadway musical and film 1776, the following line is uttered by Founding Father John Dickinson:
“Most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor.”
The collective wisdom of the internets suggests that this aphorism was actually coined by the scriptwriters, but nevertheless I think it does encapsulate a key difference between the outlook of US citizens compared with that of their European counterparts; a willingness to run the risk of poverty so long as there is some opportunity for prosperity.
Over here we prefer the safety net of healthcare and welfare even if it means we get hit by high taxes if we do crack the secret of wealth; clearly a rational choice, since all the evidence shows that the chances of making it big are very small indeed, and that the unrestrained free market can be brutal when times turn bad.
I’m sure that voters in the US will eventually come to this conclusion too, but until they do the possibility of a President Romney is unfortunately all too real.