Mitt Romney can’t seem to decide whether to attack President Obama as an all-powerful, stealthy menace to everything we hold dear, or as a fumbling failure. Most of his public statements, and those of his surrogates, seem to try to touch both bases, even though they are mutually inconsistent.
Take Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican convention. When discussing Obama’s stimulus plan, he makes Obama out to be just incompetent: he borrowed and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars while allegedly having no impact on jobs and the recession. On the other hand, he characterizes the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obama Care) as putting the federal government in charge of health care, and calls attention to “more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country.” So now Obama, the bumbling incompetent, becomes a mortal threat to our freedom.
Romney’s speech took the incompetence side. He talked about how sorry he was that President Obama hadn’t succeeded (ignoring the very public Republican vows to make Obama fail), in what was for the most part a wooden speech that elicited token applause from the faithful on the floor of the convention. Only at the end did he manage to stir them up with partisan red meat: pointed allusions to right-wing hot button issues, such as abortion and the “sanctity of marriage.”
What’s going on? Clearly, the theme of the mortal threat to our freedom is designed to appeal to the hard core Republican base, who hate Obama even more intensely than they hated Clinton. Talk to almost any militant Republican and you will find that they believe Obama guilty of deliberately undermining the country so as to transform it into a Soviet-style communist dictatorship—with Islam as the established, compulsory religion. It’s just astonishing how widespread, multifaceted and deeply rooted is the demonization of Obama among Republican militants.
The incompetence theme seems to be directed at another group: those who may have voted for Obama’s promise of hope and change, and who are now disappointed. This is a group that probably can’t be convinced that Obama is sinister, but might be open to seeing him as not up to the job.
Can they pull off making two simultaneous and inconsistent appeals to two distinct constituencies? Well, not if people are paying attention. But all it takes is a sort stint canvassing, phone-banking, or staffing a table at the farmers’ market to make one aware of how little attention and thought most people put into politics, and how easily they can be manipulated.
How can Obama and his campaign counter this assault? Obviously, they must expose the distortions, omissions, manipulations and outright lies that the Republicans are putting out. For example, Ryan criticizes Obama for taking funds out of Medicare to support Obama Care, without acknowledging that his own budget does the same thing. Moreover, the money that is being reallocated is a subsidy to the Medicate Advantage program (passed by the Republicans under George W. Bush), a program that was touted as being cost-neutral, but which actually subsidizes private insurance companies. Obama needs to make this case.
Ryan also vows to control Medicaid costs by issuing block grants to the states. So the basic Ryan/Romney strategy is to control costs to the federal government by passing them on to the states and to consumers. Obama must get this across.
More broadly, he needs to aggressively defend the Affordable Care Act: from the beginning he has not effectively countered Republican disinformation about this program; the result is the persistent majority of the population who oppose “Obama Care” even while supporting its individual elements.
On the economy and jobs, Obama must not only deliver an aggressive critique of the Republican strategy of lowering taxes and shrinking government; he must make a positive case for the kind of short term stimulus advocated by Paul Krugman. We have a slow recovery because the middle class has been devastated for a generation. He needs to show how a reversal of the long trend of impoverishment of the majority is the key to the recovery of the economy. And he needs to explain how a more prosperous economy will generate the revenues to reduce the deficit in the long term.
He does need to convince the people who voted for him once that he has a good plan. So far, he seems mostly to be telling us how untrustworthy Mitt Romney is.
Show us, Barack, that we should still believe in you.
Posted: Friday, 31 August 2012