Republicans have been running against “government” at least since Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 presidential campaign. Willard Romney fired the latest salvo in the Republican War On Government last Friday when he stated that we should not have “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” as President Obama wants, but rather, we should “get the message of Wisconsin” (referring to Governor Scott Walker‘s victory in his recent recall election) and “cut back” on these essential public servants. Some pundits called Romney’s statement a “gaffe”, and even Governor Walker, who targeted public employee unions in Wisconsin after taking office, disagreed with Romney.
Apparently, Romney’s gaffe was in going from the general Republican talking point (attacking “government” or “unions”) to the specific (targeting teachers, cops and firefighters, many of whom are beloved in their communities, for firing). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger learned a similar lesson in his first year of office, and the rest of his time as Governor was doomed. The lesson is that a good talking point, which can be made in the most general terms, does not always translate to a successful specific policy. This indicates that, when Republicans spew the usual talking points attacking “government” and “government workers”, we should put Republicans on the spot by asking them which specific programs and which specific workers they would cut.