November 5 2012
The Message We Haven't Heard
Good news! The elections of 2012 are almost over. Pundits on both sides are busy today making the final case for their candidates, and pollsters are pulling their hair out making last-minute predictions.
The spin-doctors, no doubt, are preparing for multiple outcomes, ready to explain whatever happens tomorrow.
If Obama wins, it will be easy for the mainstream media to credit his likeability among voters and perhaps even his stances on social issues that drive young people to the polls.
If Romney wins, the pundit class will have a lot harder time explaining why. I'm offering this explanation: If Obama loses, it will be because of the message we haven't heard.
We HAVE heard about the candidates' records. By now, most Americans are familiar with the fact that as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney worked with a majority-Democratic legislature, and while there he signed off on RomneyCare, eliminated the state's budget deficit (although he allowed long-term bond debt to rise), didn't raise taxes (but increased fees), and oversaw an overall decrease in unemployment. So... a mixed bag.
Obama's record on the economy can also be spun both ways. The national debt has increased by a whapping 50%, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and his health law cramps job creation further. But as his supporters would say, it could be worse. The private sector has been adding jobs consistently (even if it's not enough to track with population growth, as we saw this month).
We have also heard Romney's plan to turn things around. What would he do differently?
Romney's camp has been very clear about explaning what he would do differently as President. How many of us have heard about Romney's five point plan to fix the economy? He's brought it up ad nauseum, in the debates, at rallies, on TV spots. Whether you agree with him or not, he's made his policy stances on the economy very clear: Energy independence, better education, free trade, cut the deficit, and reduce the tax and regulatory burden on American businesses.
No doubt, when the economy is bad it's easier to be the challenger than it is to be the incumbent. But the thing we have NOT heard from the President, and the message that could make all the difference, is what he would do differently in a second term.
If the President loses his bid for re-election, it will be because he could not explain to enough independent voters how they can expect America's prospects to improve in the next four years. He has simply asked for more time.
This is not to say that the President hasn't made economic policy suggestions. He has made his priorities clear. But he simply can't get anything done. He blames obstinate Republicans in Congress.
Even if independents can sympathize and understand the polarization of politics, the President hasn't said anything about how he would alter his strategy or make compromises to find common ground with those obstinate Republicans.
The President has some policy ideas that conservatives can agree with: He said in the second debate this October that he would like to lower the corporate tax rate. This would be good for American business and encourge more companies to work domestically rather than moving overseas. I have trouble believing that Republicans in Congress would block this idea. If the President wants to lower the corporate tax rate, then we have to ask: Why hasn't he done it already?
Of course there was also that one interview - apparently intended to be off-the-record - where the President said he would come to a "grand bargain" with Republicans to reduce the deficit in his second term. He said it was, "the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time," which to me sounds like, "Nothing new." I'm glad the President believes that deficit reduction can be another area for common ground, but again, why hasn't he focused on this before? Instead, we've seen record-high, trillion-dollar deficits for the past four years running.
The President's problem is that he is the President. It's in his self-interest, as well as in the interests of the country, to pursue a pro-growth economic policy. So far, he's proved himself incapable of getting this done, and we haven't heard a real explanation of how he would become capable upon re-election.