While running for president, Mitt Romney once said, in response to a question, “If you want free stuff, vote for the other guy.”

In a final conference call yesterday with his finance committee, Romney reportedly said, in effect, he lost because many voters wanted free things, and so they voted for the other guy.

The Mail Online reports:

Republican Mitt Romney attributes his election loss to President Obama's 'gifts' that he bestowed on minorities and young people during his first term.

In a conference call with his national finance committee on Wednesday, Romney said Obama's win was buoyed in large part by loyal Democratic constituencies including the poor that he had promised 'free health care,' the immigrants that he had protected from deportation and the college-aged women that he had offered free contraceptives. 

'You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity? I mean, this is huge.”

Likewise, with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus,' he added. 'But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called DREAM Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.'

If this analysis is correct–and, for the record, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal strongly disagrees–how could Romney and Paul Ryan have won? This is one of the things that the shell shocked GOP should be talking about as it attempts to regroup. It is the entitlement problem stated bluntly—inelegantly, as Mitt himself might put it.

I’m reading a biography of Martin van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, the inventor of the two-party system as we know it, and it surprised me to see that the practice of transporting what we now call “episodic voters” to the polls had already begun. But the practice wasn't nearly as dangerous as it is now: there was a smaller percentage of such voters and the scope of government was so much more limited that there was no incentive to show up and vote for free stuff.

Myron Magnet, editor-at-large of City Journal, has a book coming out entitled The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817. In a preview in City Journal, Magnet explains that the reason the American Revolution succeeded, while others, notably and French and Russian ones, failed, is that our founders had a limited view of what government was supposed to do:

We all get only one life: imagine someone born under the billowing flags of the new Soviet Union in 1917, who had to live that whole single life without the freedom so much as to speak the truth of the squalid, oppressive reality he saw in front of his own eyes. One single life—and what you can make of the one you have depends so much on what others have done to mold the time and place in which you live.

The Founders knew that truth so well that they announced their nationhood by significantly changing John Locke’s catalog of natural rights. The shift began in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, where George Mason emended Locke’s right to “Lives, Liberties and Estates” to “Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.” Two months later, Thomas Jefferson penned the final pithy formulation of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The pursuit of happiness! Who but the Americans made a revolution to vindicate the paramount right of each individual to try to make the most of his life by his own effort as he sees fit?

A key reason the revolution succeeded was its strictly limited scope. The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or an economic one. Their Lockean social-contract political philosophy taught them that the preservation of individual liberty was the goal of politics.

This is a far cry from having a government that has taken over one sixth of the economy and will soon be telling older people if they are worth the cost of a hip replacement. But the new form of government is certainly not without appeal: your one life may be more meaningful if you ask only the liberty to live it as you choose. But on a more immediate level, free stuff is pretty attractive.