According to President Obama, Mitt Romney is guilty of one great crime. He made money.
Obama's condemnation in vites questions: If making money is the crime, would it be more virtuous of Romney if he lost money? Or was the problem that Romney made too much money, rather than the Goldilocks amount? Is it up to the government to decide for each one of us what's "just right?"
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," Galadriel says "Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it." In that sense, the 2012 campaign is a test of our national memory.
Do we remember that dawn of a third-century ago, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and the United States began a strong and steady climb out of the malaise of the ‘70s? During that rise, we watched the "misery index" of the Carter years shrink until it disappeared, while the U.S. soared through a two-decade ascent of economic growth and expanding prosperity.
During this peacetime boom, GDP nearly doubled, 35 million new jobs were created, industrial production increased nearly 80 percent, and the stock market, in which nearly half the nation became investors, appreciated in value by 15 percent annually. This was not a happy accident. It was the consequence of innovative thinking and successful economic policy.
In 1981, a powerful providence of history occurred in the confluence of Reagan's election, and the appearance, from the Berkshire hamlet of Tyringham, of George Gilder's best seller "Wealth and Poverty," in which he explained that greed cannot possibly account for the immense generosity and preemptive sacrifices practiced by entrepreneurs and capitalists. In "Wealth and Poverty," Gilder illuminated the brilliance and amplified the power of supply side economics as no previous work had before, or has since.
Capitalism is not about greed. "The moral core of capitalism," said Gilder "is the essential altruism of enterprise." Entrepreneurs are motivated to create value for others. Only then do they receive value in exchange-but the sacrifice comes first, before any return can possibly be realized. Furthermore, the determination of the returns remains always in the hands of others.
President Reagan understood this, and he embraced it. Reagan's across-the-board tax cuts brought supply-side life to the economy, and his determination to decrease needless regulations and government expansion further accelerated economic incentives and growth.
Reagan was free from the egalitarian encumbrances of "tax fairness" and "income equality." He did not apologize for profits. He celebrated them. He did not encourage class envy. He did the opposite. He encouraged everybody across the economic spectrum to believe they could achieve more.
The 1980s -- the Reagan Decade -- exploded, not with war as his critics had warned it would, but with economic growth and international peace. Today, Reagan would blend in beautifully on Rush more. And Gilder, gladly, continues to write from Tyringham, with a brand new edition of "Wealth and Poverty" arriving in time to influence the upcoming election.
Mitt Romney's opportunity is immense. His monumental transgression in the eyes of President Obama -- the attainment of economic success -- is exactly the virtue we need more of. Romney needs to do what Reagan did. He must make it clear that the way out of our current economic malaise is not to denigrate free enterprise, but to celebrate it, and to liberate it in every possible way.
Romney should not apologize for anything, and especially not for his wealth. He needs to be confident in his success, and in what it means. In their hearts, most Americans know that making more money is something we really need to get better at, both personally and nationally.
Romney has the chance to remind the nation of what made our economy surge and swell one time not that long ago, under a very different brand of presidential leadership and national purpose. Like Ronald Reagan before him, he must shrug off his critics with a smile, and speak straightforwardly of the powerful pro-growth economic ideas that lead to great benefits and increasing opportunities for an ever-greater number of people.
Republican Sen. John McCain, a seasoned veteran of the Reagan years, said last month that Romney is "Reaganesque ... I see in him Ronald Reagan." For Romney, nothing could be better. For Obama, nothing could be worse.
The stage is set for a clear choice between President Obama's campaign of anti-capitalist class envy, and a Romney rally of outright celebration of American enterprise and opportunity. Free market capitalism is at the heart of America's historic greatness. Gilder elucidates it, Reagan got it, and Obama definitely doesn't.
It's Mitt Romney's moment.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.