When George W. Bush and his team were gearing up for the 2004 election, they came up with a theme to help summarize the administration's governing philosophy. It was called the "Ownership Society."
The message never really resonated with the public, but the Republican team was pretty invested in it, at least for a while. In one 2004 ad, Bush argued, "I understand if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of America."
This was intended to create a foundation for a privatization agenda: instead of relying on Social Security and public schools, for example, you'd get a private account and vouchers in an "Ownership Society." Bush could, the argument went, shrink the government by having Americans take "ownership" of public services.
At least, that was the idea. In 2005, Americans got a good look at what the "Ownership Society" would mean for Social Security, were repulsed, and the theme/message quietly faded away.
It was interesting, then, to hear Mitt Romney roll out yet another new stump speech in Wisconsin, where he picked up where Bush circa 2005 left off.
"[President Obama] has spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new Government-Centered Society. I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of our Opportunity Society, led by free people and free enterprises."
As this relates to Obama, the charge is pretty silly. A "Government-Centered Society"? Seriously? It's hard to imagine even Romney believes this.
But this talk of an "Opportunity Society" is well worth paying attention to.
What's the difference between Bush's "Ownership Society" and Romney's "Opportunity Society"? Apparently, about nine letters.
The funny thing about the Romney speech is that he went on and on in his condemnation of the "Government-Centered Society" -- which appears to exist only in the fevered imaginations of the former governor's speechwriters -- but didn't offer much in the way of details when it came to what Americans can expect from an "Opportunity Society." (Romney has already admitted he can't give out details of his agenda before the election, because if voters heard about his plans, they might not vote for him.)
The gist of the "Opportunity Society," if the candidate's vague remarks are any indication, is that Americans will, under a Romney administration, simply rely on an unregulated free market to solve our problems. We would have the "opportunity" to go without basic medical care, clean and air water, college aid, worker protections, safeguards against Wall Street excesses, and an adequate safety net. This will, in turn, create what Romney described as "an Opportunity Nation."
Romney isn't exactly a sequel to the Bush era, so much as he's the Bush era rebranded. The difference is changing the word "ownership" to "opportunity," and dropping any hint of "compassionate" as a precursor for "conservatism."