Don't get too distracted by the fissures in the Republican electorate revealed in Tuesday night's Iowa caucus vote. On basic economic issues, in fact, the candidates are remarkably united; there's hardly eight votes worth of difference between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
While there are certainly differences on the margins between the former governor of Massachusetts and the former senator from Pennsylvania on economic policy issues, on the basic economic direction the candidates would take the country you could just about say that the winner of the Iowa caucus was "Mitt Santorum" with 50 percent of the vote.
In fact, all of the Republican candidates were on the same basic page when it came to the broad economic policy solutions. This chart by Think Progress on the candidates makes that remarkably clear. More tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations? Check. Cuts to Medicare and Social Security? Check. Repealing health care and Wall Street reforms? Check and check.
The losers, of course, are economically struggling Americans, both those who have jobs but fret about their economic security, and those who are trying but failing to make it onto the economic ladder. In speeches after the caucus vote, "Mitt Santorum" feigned care for these people but offered relief only to the wealthiest Americans and the corporate lobbyists who control Washington. To sell an anti-worker, anti-middle-class agenda, "Mitt Santorum" trotted out the conservative movement's tried-and-true bogeymen: an Obama administration that is "redistributing money" and "increasing dependency," and government regulations and taxes that have "made workers uncompetitive by driving up the costs of doing business."
With that as the diagnosis of the problem, the prescription is to cut taxes, even though top-end taxes are already at historic lows relative to their share of the economy; cut regulations, even in the face of the consequences of regulatory laxity on Wall Street and in the Gulf of Mexico; and further cut the safety net of the millions of unemployed and working poor Americans, even though doing so would in fact worsen the overall economy, as is happening in Europe.
President Obama "wants to make us an entitlement society," says "Mitt Santorum," who claims to instead want "a merit society" in which America is "the most attractive place in the world for job creators and innovators and investors" and in which government regulators see their mission "as that of encouraging enterprise"—not, notably, that of protecting the health, security and well-being of the country as a whole.
True, there are differences worth noting between Romney and Santorum. In the upcoming congressional fight over extending a payroll tax holiday through the end of 2012, Romney is a reluctant supporter of the extension; Santorum is a staunch opponent, along with candidates Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. Santorum also said Tuesday night he would boost manufacturing businesses by eliminating corporate taxes for them; Romney said he did not want to be in the business of "picking winners and losers" but has in the past been outspoken against China's currency manipulation, which has helped make American manufacturing less competitive.
But "Mitt Santorum" is of one mind when it comes to framing the coming economic debate. This candidate believes that the immorality of today's economy lies in the broad swath of American people who are being corrupted by "dependency" fostered by government. He refuses to see the real immorality: an economic system that is stacked by corporate lobbyists and conservative ideology in favor of the rich and that fosters dependency through relentless outsourcing, and wage- and benefit-cutting, while lavishing CEOs with lavish bonuses and stock options, subsidized by American taxpayers.
Half of Republican voters are divided over whether the face of their ideology should be a fervent Catholic fixated on sexual morality or a Mormon ex-governor whose private sector claim to fame is as a leader of a job-killing private equity firm. But for tens of millions of working-class and middle-class Americans who need real economic reform and a government that serves their interests, the answer to that question hardly matters.