The real miss­ing in­gre­di­ent for GOP hope­fuls

The Washington Times Daily - - Business -

As the Su­per Tues­day re­sults are be­ing di­gested, hopes will surely linger for a last-minute dream can­di­date to lap to­day’s Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field. Naive if taken lit­er­ally, such hopes can nonethe­less ben­e­fit vot­ers and politi­cians across the spec­trum. For they can point to­ward su­pe­rior for­mu­las for solv­ing big and seem­ingly in­tractable na­tional prob­lems and for as­sem­bling the win­ning po­lit­i­cal coali­tions they need.

Here’s my ver­sion: One of the cur­rent front-run­ners co-opts the other’s strong­est plat­form plank to be­come a truly cred­i­ble cham­pion of the man­u­fac­tur­ing-based eco­nomic re­cov­ery Amer­ica ur­gently needs — and whose so­cial as well as eco­nomic im­por­tance so many vot­ers in­stinc­tively get.

Both for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney and for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Sen. Rick San­to­rum cur­rently em­pha­size only one of the two vari­ables in this na­tional re­cov­ery equa­tion — and both stu­diously ig­nore or ac­tively op­pose the other.

Mr. Rom­ney ap­par­ently rec­og­nizes that preda­tory for­eign trade poli­cies must be coun­tered in or­der to cre­ate what Pres­i­dent Obama in­sight­fully has called “an econ­omy built to last” — rather than one based on credit and hous­ing bub­bles. Why else would he keep vow­ing to neu­tral­ize cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion by China and other com­peti­tors, as well as to re­fo­cus U.S. pol­icy on seek­ing rec­i­proc­ity in trade re­la­tions?

Af­ter all, look at the re­sults of decades of ig­nor­ing for­eign mar­ket rig­ging and seek­ing mind­less trade ex­pan­sion: bloated trade deficits, as­tro­nom­i­cal na­tional debts, and ma­jor off­shoring of the na­tion’s in­dus­trial and tech­no­log­i­cal crown jew­els, along with the lu­cra­tive, broad-based in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties they cre­ate.

Yet Mr. Rom­ney hasn’t re­motely tried to make these trade, man­u­fac­tur­ing and re­cov­ery con­nec­tions. And un­til the GOP pri­maries reached man­u­fac­tur­ing-heavy Ohio, he hadn’t even linked do­mes­tic in­dus­try’s stag­na­tion and the re­sult­ing wage de­cline with the pres­sures that have strained and bro­ken count­less mid­dle-class fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially dur­ing these hard eco­nomic times.

In­deed, Team Rom­ney some­times seems set on dis­cred­it­ing any spe­cial in­ter­est in any in­dus­try for any rea­son. At least that’s the mes­sage sent by the can­di­date’s cav­a­lier treat­ment of the auto in­dus­try res­cue and by a key ad­viser’s re­cent car­i­ca­ture of any of­fi­cial pref­er­ences for man­u­fac­tur­ing as stereo­typ­i­cal Big Gov­ern­ment hubris.

Mr. San­to­rum force­fully talked the man­u­fac­tur­ing talk long be­fore the in­dus­trial-state pri­maries. De­spite harsh de­nun­ci­a­tion from free-mar­ket ex­trem­ists, he has re­lent­lessly touted man­u­fac­tur­ing’s pow­er­ful mul­ti­plier ef­fect on jobs, pro­duc­tion and busi­ness cre­ation alike, as well as the dis­tinc­tive global chal­lenges it faces.

Just as im­por­tant, Mr. San­to­rum has be­come the high­est-pro­file cham­pion of the long-stand­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ple that it was man­u­fac­tur­ing that cre­ated the “wealth that was sus­tain­ing fam­i­lies and al­lowed folks to be able to par­tic­i­pate in civic and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions with­out hav­ing to work two or three jobs. They could par­tic­i­pate in the health of their com­mu­nity, which was vi­tal for the health of our coun­try.” Com­plet­ing the rhetor­i­cal cir­cle, Mr. San­to­rum un­der­stands why na­tional se­cu­rity re­quires a world-class man­u­fac­tur­ing base at home.

These win­ning pol­icy and po­lit­i­cal points, how­ever, are un­der­cut by Mr. San­to­rum’s woe­fully in­ad­e­quate agenda for re­viv­ing U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing. Its big­gest weak­ness, more­over, is its al­most will­ful de­nial (ex­cept, in the past, when Penn­syl­va­nia steel in­ter­ests were at stake) that global man­u­fac­tur­ing trade and in­vest­ment are per­va­sively tilted against do­mes­tic U.S. in­ter­ests not mainly by ex­ces­sive Amer­i­can taxes and reg­u­la­tions, but by vastly greater for­eign sub­si­dies and trade bar­ri­ers.

So imag­ine the im­pact on a re­ces­sion-blud­geoned elec­torate of a Mitt Rom­ney, who com­bined his trade pol­icy re­al­ism with a vi­sion of the U.S. econ­omy grounded in pro­duc­tive, Main Street eco­nomic pur­suits again. Or of a Rick San­to­rum, who put some back­bone into his in­sight­ful man­u­fac­tur­ing pop­ulism by at­tack­ing Bei­jing’s cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tors rather than cod­dling them.

This repo­si­tion­ing wouldn’t solve all the prob­lems of the two ri­val cam­paigns. But it could over­shadow them and in­trigue cru­cial con­stituen­cies they haven’t yet cracked. Most im­por­tant, the rip­ples could help cre­ate a gen­uinely vi­able gov­ern­ing strat­egy — who­ever wins the White House.

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