Putting ‘the nature of the American social contract’ on the ballot

PUTTING ‘THE NATURE OF THE AMERICAN SOCIAL CONTRACT’ ON THE BALLOT…. Charles Krauthammer has apparently been thinking about his party’s prospects in 2012, and he’d like to offer some advice.

As he sees it, the message that works for Republicans is when they debate “the size and reach of government, spending and debt, and, most fundamentally, the nature of the American social contract.” Krauthammer thinks this worked for the GOP in 2010, and “the more the Republicans can make the 2012 election like 2010, the better their chances of winning.”

The extent to which conservatives misread the midterms continues to fascinate me. Regardless, E.J. Dionne Jr. is right to note that Democrats would be very fortunate if Republicans took Krauthammer’s advice.

Americans simply do not agree with the approach that Rep. Paul Ryan has laid out (and that Charles so admires). It’s clear from the polling that Americans would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than slash away at the federal government’s programs to offer health coverage to the elderly and the less well-off. On the merits, I think this majority is right.

And the more conservatives make 2012 like 2010, the more they will rally progressive voters to the polls. 2010 was a classic midterm protest election — conservative turnout was way up relative to progressive and moderate turnout. The Ryan budget is creating more energy among its opponents than among conservatives; or, to put it another way, to the extent that Ryan is rallying positive energy on the right, it is among people who were already going to come out and vote Republican anyway. But by reminding progressives of the stakes in 2012, Ryan will bring many of them back to the voting booths. That is one reason why President Obama is talking about the Ryan budget so much. Another is that middle-of-the-road voters will like it less the more they know about it.

So yes, let’s rerun 2010. I am persuaded it will come out quite differently the next time around.

Ron Brownstein reports this week that the White House is thinking along the same lines. In fact, as the Obama team sees it, the Ryan plan is actually quite helpful in framing the debate — with fiscal issues taking center stage, the question then comes down to choices. People can choose between a radical and unpopular Republican vision, and a more popular “balanced” approach touted by the president.

Krauthammer and many GOP leaders seriously seem to believe there’s a real public appetite for slashing domestic spending, more tax cuts for people who don’t need them, and a radical overhaul of popular programs like Medicare.

With 2012 in mind, it’s a sucker’s bet.