- - Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The White House cannot be happy with the recent developments in the GOP primary race. In a bizarre turn of events, the very campaign strategy that the Democrats are just salivating to use against the now presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, had its first test run in New Hampshire, and it failed. Miserably.

It’s hard to fathom why the usually brilliant Newt Gingrich would attack Mr. Romney from the left while at the same time claiming to be the conservative alternative to him. When comparing governing records, indeed, Mr. Gingrich is more conservative and accomplished than Mr. Romney. It’s puzzling, then, that the former speaker of the House would align himself with the Occupy Wall Street protesters to accuse Mr. Romney, a founding partner at Bain Capital, not of illegality or even deception but of not being “fair.”

Conservatives, rightly, were quick to defend the free market. “Attacking Gov. Romney for participating in free-market capitalism is just beyond the pale for any purported ‘Reagan Conservative,’ ” declared the conservative Club for Growth. Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of talk radio, went even further, saying the attack “sounds like left-wing social engineering,” a reference to Mr. Gingrich’s earlier ill-advised swipe at conservative Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future.

Mr. Gingrich, while claiming to believe in the free market, revealed contempt for it by claiming Mr. Romney sought “clever legal ways to loot [his own] company.” The former speaker should be reminded that in America, a business owner is free to withdraw his own capital from his own enterprise. That’s not looting, Newt. Looting is when the government, under the guise of fairness, does it for you.

Not to be outdone, Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided to add to this theater of the bizarre with his own attack on free enterprise. His new insult to Mr. Romney - calling him a “vulture capitalist” - belongs on an Occupy Wall Street protest sign, not in a Republican primary. So Mr. Perry, the newly self-anointed arbiter of which investments are virtuous, claimed Mr. Romney “picked the flesh off the carcass” of a company while 150 people lost their jobs.

Mr. Perry, do you even listen to the words that are falling out of your mouth? If your own description is correct, if a company is dying - or is already dead, a “carcass,” as you say - wouldn’t the smartest course of action be to save whatever can be salvaged? Think this through. Would you prefer instead that those 150 people stay with a carcass of a company? And how exactly would they receive paychecks from their dead company? Government bailouts? Subsidies? Propping up dying companies is Obamanomics.

Blaming the venture capitalist for the failure of a company is like blaming the transplant surgeon for the car crash that, while sad, supplied lifesaving donor organs to desperate souls. At least in the business world, as opposed to the unforgiving practice of medicine, the employees of a dying firm can go elsewhere for work, and their lives go on. Surely we’d all agree that workers are better off moving to viable companies than being stuck in dying ones.

The simple truth is that in a free market, not all businesses succeed, but our economy as a whole can still thrive when resources - both capital and labor - are freely redirected from failing ideas to successful ones. In fact, the same is true in politics, and we’re witnessing it now.

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry risk converting their viable campaigns into, well, carcasses by touching the new third rail of GOP politics: the free market. Meanwhile, the capital and labor - in this case, donations and volunteers - are fleeing to the Romney campaign, which is mounting a vigorous and even unapologetic defense of free enterprise. While it may be unlikely that the author of Romneycare has become the defender of the free market, regardless, when freedom wins in the marketplace of ideas, America wins, too. But not everyone is happy.

President Obama should be very worried by the backlash against these attacks, real or perceived, on free-market capitalism. The White House’s divisive class-warfare strategy of running against free enterprise, against the “1 percent,” was given a test run by Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry, and it failed miserably. Not only was Mr. Romney given the opportunity to preview that line of attack and prepare accordingly but, more importantly, the voters soundly rejected it.

Democrats will claim that these Republican primary results do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of general election voters, but not so fast. New Hampshire has an open primary, and 45 percent of its primary voters were “undeclared” as to political party. Independent voters are unquestionably rejecting the assault on free enterprise. What’s more, Mr. Romney received a higher percentage of voters, despite the large GOP field, than either Mr. Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton did in 2008.

Democrats are right to worry, and conservatives have renewed reason for optimism. The 2012 election is beginning to be more about enduring principles and less about imperfect politicians. Will we accept Mr. Obama’s statist march toward the second-class fate of a European-style social welfare state? Or will we once again embrace those principles of limited government and free enterprise that destined America to become the greatest nation on earth?

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is a radiologist and President Obama’s cousin. He blogs at miltonwolf.com.

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