How even and unpredictable is the presidential election? Consider this: Barack Obama’s approval ratings are lower than that of any incumbent president who has been re-elected, but higher than any incumbent president who has been defeated for re-election. No incumbent has been re-elected with a lower winning percentage than in his first election, but Obama –if he wins, still unlikely – will likely be the first to achieve that dubious feat – garnering fewer votes but still winning re-election. He is right on the cusp, which points to his ineffectiveness as president but success as campaigner.
It is still Mitt Romney’s election to lose. No president with Obama’s economic record and foreign policy failures has ever been re-elected, but Romney needs to hammer home several essential points that will defuse Obama’s relentless recitation of meaningless clichés. Debates are an odd format in which to judge presidential timber, as presidents are rarely if ever called on to debate anyone. It is not something they need to have in their tool box, except insofar as it is necessary to connect with an electorate honed on entertainment rather than policy. In short, Romney needs to get tough while remaining pleasant, a little less Mormon-nice and a little more New York.
Therefore, I offer these choice rebuttals to the Obama chestnuts.
Obama: “I inherited a mess.”
Romney: “Yes, and you made it worse, not better. Ronald Reagan inherited a bigger mess (20% interest rates, 10% inflation) but he made it better, catapulting the economy to 25 years of economic growth. I want to adopt similar policies.”
Obama: “My opponent’s policies are the same ones that got us into this mess in the first place.”
Romney: “Not at all. But when you inherited the mess, you made these mistakes – A,B,C,D. You spent money you didn’t have, you pursued an ideological agenda that spent even more money we don’t have, you introduced more instability into the financial system and have depressed investment. No wonder no one is hiring. You made these mistakes – amateurish mistakes – because you have no business experience. You have never run a business in your life and it shows. In the real world, a failing company cannot just print six trillion dollars to bail itself out.
You didn’t allow failing businesses to be properly reconstructed but intervened in such a way that investors lost while your union buddies received their payoffs. You spent hundreds of billions of dollars on “shovel ready projects” that you laughed off “were not really shovel ready.” There is nothing funny about that, nothing worthy of laughter. That was not your money, that was the hard-earned money of taxpayers. See, you have never run a business and never really worked in the private sector. In the real world, when you lose money, you are losing your money, not someone else’s money, so you’re more careful. You don’t respect the private sector –you just see it as a cash cow that allows you to re-distribute money from the productive to the unproductive, or pursue quixotic quests like Solyndra. Big joke! Another half-trillion dollars – hard earned taxpayer money – down the drain.
You spent all this money and have nothing to show for it.
If I had been President in 2009, I would have cut taxes for private businesses and provided tax credits for the first year’s wages to new employees. That would have stimulated growth and jobs. I would have enabled the productive to be more productive by not consuming their work time with compliance with ever increasing paperwork and new regulations. Only the private sector creates jobs that build the economy. You claim you created 5 million new jobs. Please explain exactly what you did to create those jobs. What policies did you pursue to create those jobs? Paying taxpayer money to keep construction crews working – when the money has to be borrowed – creates nothing. It is more reminiscent of Milton Friedman’s whimsical suggestion for “government sponsored full employment:” pay half the people to dig holes, and the other half to fill the holes. Voila! Full employment.
You are crushing the private sector, and because you have no business experience, you don’t even know it.”
Obama: “Yes, but I inherited an economy that was the worst since the Great Depression.”
Romney: “Mr. President, with all due respect, blaming your predecessor for everything is not a policy. It’s just whining. Every president inherits problems. That is why he runs for president. I will inherit your mess. But rather than focus every day of my administration on re-election and catering to special interest groups, I will stimulate the economy through targeted tax cuts, unleash the private sector to create jobs and begin an era of American recovery and dominance. You are crushing America’s spirit by waging class warfare and minimizing our true potential. You are crushing America’s spirit by boasting about how many more people receive food stamps, thanks to you, and how many more people receive government assistance, thanks to you. I hope to boast about how many Americans I helped make independent and self-sufficient, how many families remained intact.”
Obama: “The Republican Congress has blocked all my initiative that would have saved the day.”
Romney: “Sir, even you are aware that for the first two years of your term, Congress was controlled by Democrats with overwhelming majorities. You failed to pursue any meaningful policies that the Democrat Congress could have adopted to jump start the economy. Instead, you squandered your majority by passing a mammoth and wildly unpopular government takeover of the health care system. You and your Democrat Congress have not even submitted a budget in years – how’s that for injecting uncertainty into the business world ? Didn’t you promise your government would be the most transparent ever? It is the least – no one even knows what it is in the budget because you never produce one. That is shameful incompetence. No business could succeed that way – but how would you know? You have never run a business, and it shows.
It is true that since the people rebelled against your incompetence 2010 and elected a Republican House with which you have been unable to find any common ground. But that is another failure as president. You are president, not dictator. In my state of Massachusetts, I had to cooperate with a Democratic legislature. We compromised, we found common ground. If you can’t, it is another sign of failed leadership and a failed presidency.
There will likely be a Republican House again and maybe even a Republican Senate. Will you continue to use that as an excuse for inaction if you are re-elected? Probably, and that’s another reason why you should not be re-elected.”
Obama: “Fortunately, we have turned the corner, and everything is looking up, so let’s look forward.”
Romney: “Actually, everything is worse since you took over. The deficit has skyrocketed to unimaginable levels, unemployment remains stubbornly high and unacceptable, gasoline prices have doubled – do you hear me? Doubled! – since you took office, and yet you are still strangling domestic oil production. You lament our reliance on Mideast oil, but you stubbornly refuse to permit oil exploration in Alaska and unconscionably have refused to allow the construction of the Keystone pipeline that will create thousands of jobs and bring us good Canadian – not Saudi – crude oil. That’s outrageous!
You were against the extraction of shale oil but couldn’t stop it – so you claimed credit for it! You have stopped offshore domestic oil drilling but you are subsidizing – with hard-earned taxpayer money – the Brazilians to drill for oil off their coast. Whose president are you?”
Obama: “My opponent just wants to give more tax breaks to his rich friends.”
Romney: “”You know what you are saying is false, and yet you keep saying it. I want to cut tax rates for everyone – everyone. Naturally, this might sound complicated to Democrats, but you can’t cut taxes for people who don’t pay taxes. That should be easy to follow. They can’t pay less than zero. Cutting tax rates – especially capital gains tax rate – has always increased revenues, not decreased them. More people invest, more people spend, more people are hired and more people work. You know that. You even said once that you know that but fairness is more important than stimulating the economy. But there is nothing fair about taking someone’s money and giving it to someone else. I believe in charity. I give more in charity than I pay in taxes – and that is how it should be.
Perhaps had you actually worked a day in your life in the private sector you would realize this. The good news is that come November, with the people’s help, you will be dispatched to the private sector. Trust me, you will benefit greatly from my policies, as will the country.”
If Mitt Romney can articulate these themes, the election is his to win. And we will all prosper.