When Hillary Rosen said that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life," it was among the better days of the Romney campaign.
For Rosen—present whereabouts unknown—both revealed the feminist mindset about women who choose to become wives and mothers and brought Ann Romney center stage.
Before a Connecticut audience recently, Mrs. Romney spoke of her reluctance to see her husband pursue the presidency a second time and said she resisted, until she got an answer to one critical question.
"Can you fix it?" she asked Mitt. "I need to know. Is it too late?"
Mitt Romney replied, "No, it's getting late, but it's not too late."
Yet Ann's question lingers. Is it still possible to turn this country around? Or has a fate like that of Europe become inevitable?
If one focuses on the deficit-debt crisis, and what a president can do, the temptation is to succumb to despair.
Consider. The U.S. government spends a peacetime record 24 to 25 percent of gross domestic product. Most of that is expended on five accounts: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other Great Society programs, interest on the national debt, war and defense.
Now assume the best of all worlds for the GOP. Mitt wins, and the party captures the Senate and holds the House.
Would that assure a rollback of the federal budget? And, if so, how?
As Romney is committed to expanding the armed forces by 100,000 personnel, to growing the Navy by 15 ships a year, from today's nine, to raising defense spending to 4 percent of GDP from the present 3.8 percent, defense spending would not be going down but up.
What about interest expense?
Given the Federal Reserve's present policy of holding interest rates near zero, the only way interest on the debt can go—is up.
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Great Society would have to sustain almost all of the cuts if the budget is to move toward balance.
But if the Republicans cut current benefits, they would antagonize 50 million seniors already on Social Security and Medicare.
If they cut future benefits, they will anger the baby boomers who are reaching eligibility for these retirement programs at a rate of 300,000 a month, 10,000 a day, and will continue to retire at that pace until 2030.
Would a President Romney and Republican Congress roll back benefits for scores of millions of seniors, raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare, reduce funds for Medicaid, Head Start, Pell grants, student loans, primary and secondary education, and shed federal employees by the tens of thousands?
Republicans argue that the corporate tax rate of 35 percent, highest among advanced nations, and the personal rate of 35 percent should be cut. The other piece of tax reform is the elimination of deductions and credits so a lower rate on a broader tax base will yield the same or additional revenue.
Looks good on paper.
But today 50 percent of all U.S. wage-earners pay zero income tax. Will that half of a nation reward a party that ensures that many of them, too, contribute? Free-riders on the federal tax code are voters, too.
Again, the crucial question: Does the Romney Republican Party have the courage of its convictions—to carry out a fiscal program consistent with its conservative philosophy?
For when, ever, has the modern GOP done that?
Richard Nixon funded the Great Society. Gerald Ford bailed out the Big Apple. George H.W. Bush increased spending and raised taxes. George W. Bush gave us No Child Left Behind, free prescription drugs for seniors, two wars, tax cuts and the largest increase in domestic spending since LBJ.
Even Ronald Reagan ruefully conceded that he failed to do what he had set out to do in cutting federal spending.
Now, we are assured that this generation of Republicans has come home to the church and confessed its sins, and is prepared to face martyrdom in the name of fiscal responsibility.
Yet, if it is difficult to see how the GOP advances toward a balanced budget, it is impossible to see how President Obama does.
Would the party of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, triumphant, scale back programs that are the pride of their party—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid? Would Pelosi, Reid and Obama cut the number of bureaucrats and beneficiaries of federal programs, thereby demobilizing the unionized armies on which they depend at election time?
When FDR came to power in 1933, after his running mate, "Cactus Jack" Garner, accused Herbert Hoover of taking us "down the road to socialism," the Federal government was spending 4 percent of GDP.
Today, it spends 24 percent. Under both parties, under every president since FDR, domestic spending has moved in one direction.
Ann Romney's question remains relevant.
Is the trend inexorable? Is there any turning back? Is it too late?
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