So last night’s Obama speech got mostly mediocre-to-bad reviews. I’ll try to see for myself tomorrow and the polls that come out next week will give us some idea of what most people saw. At least as important as the Obama speech was the mediocre-to-bad jobs report. There is an election there for Romney to win. One problem is that the jobs report, while probably not bad enough to sink Obama by itself, might be bad enough to convince Romney to give in to his shallowest and most self-destructively cynical instincts. It isn’t enough to harp on the economy. People already know the economy is bad, and after a while, talking about the lousiness of the economy stops giving you any kind of return on the investment if the economic analysis isn’t coupled with a message. Everything else being equal, if the economy was good, it wouldn’t matter what Romney had to say. The bad economy forms the basis for an economic argument from Romney. But the lousiness of the economy doesn’t mean the median voter wants to replace Obama with Romney. Just from talking to people (some of them Obama-leaners), I think there is a hunger for a plausible story of how we can get to a better economy. The “I’m the businessman from business for business” stuff doesn’t get there. Most everyone knows people in business who we wouldn’t want as president. Same thing with Romney’s “I love America, so let me rap some patriotic songs” stuff. Some people might doubt Obama’s patriotism, but not the median voter. Same thing with Romney’s stuff about his dad’s roses and him loving his kids. We already have a decent family man as president and not a few people miss Bill Clinton.
It is worse than that. I think that, on some level people don’t articulate, these kinds of Romney nonanswers to people’s concerns are either a reason to tune him out (at best) or an active turn off (at worst.) Romney would be so much better off giving people “cogent-sounding arguments” for why Romney’s favored policies would lead to better lives. It doesn’t have to be a super lecture. Just make an argument that can survive some level of scrutiny. Harvard University practically made the argument for spending-cut centered fiscal consolidation for him. He can make a reasonable argument that Obama is steering us into either an economically ruinous debt crisis or economically dangerous tax increases, but that Romney can responsibly control spending while helping the economy. The argument on Medicare is very winnable and Romney hasn’t even fully engaged with what is wrong with Obama’s Medicare plans.
Romney doesn’t have to worry about being boring. He is always boring. Rapping doesn’t help with that. Telling family stories doesn’t help with that. And it’s okay. It’s fine. That is something to work with. What he ought to do is give more of a sense of how he plans to use his formidable intelligence and work ethic to pursue better policies. Use what people know and like (or at least respect) about him, and use it to explain how his gifts are going into the service of the people whose vote he is seeking.
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