With his State of the Union address last week, President Obama began to spell out the central themes of the re-election campaign he will be running against (most likely) Mitt Romney or (less likely) Newt Gingrich.
First, let’s consider what we’ve been able to glean from the Republican opposition.
Romney’s message: “I’m a businessman; he’s France.”
Gingrich’s frame: “I’m for pay checks; he’s for food stamps.”
To Mitt, Obama argues: “I killed Bin Laden; he’s a rich guy.”
And to Grinch: “I killed Bin Laden; he’s nuts.”
Sure, we know there’s more on both sides. But in national politics, it’s the big, broad, brush strokes that tell us how the contenders plan to paint themselves and their opponents. In other words, although they all have more to say, what sticks in the ear of the man on the street?
You can try it: ask someone you know who is likely to vote but doesn’t follow politics closely to tell you one thing about Obama (besides that he’s black). Or one thing about Romney (besides that he’s a Mormon) or Gingrich (besides that he cheated on two wives).
Assuming the race will be Obama v. Romney, it will indeed be class warfare, for which we can credit 1) the Occupy Wall Street movement 2) Romney’s immense wealth and low tax-rate and 3) the distribution of wealth in America.
As we noted the other day, a recent Pew Research Center study found that “two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009. Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense.”
Fairness and France: The OWS movement may not have developed a programmatic agenda, but it has shined a blinding light on the fundamental maldistribution of resources and burdens in modern American society. The more super-wealthy .01-percenter Mitt protests, the more he draws attention to his status as a vulture capitalist with off-shore bank accounts for whom job creation takes a back seat to return on equity.
American voters have long been just fine with rich politicians, from John F. Kennedy to Michael Bloomberg. They admire Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. But they expect a certain level of human decency, of generosity, of commitment to the common good that – sadly – is unapparent in Mitt Romney.
When he goes on and on about Obama trying to turn America into a European-style socialist welfare state, it just sounds like he’s saying, “He wants to make me just like you – you nebbish.” This is not great mass messaging.
Both sides of Romney’s frame backfire on him: he’s a businessman with vast investments at a time when people increasingly distrust Wall Street and the wealthy. And he tries to paint Obama as a social democrat at a time when there’s increasing hunger for greater equality or at least equity.
Even before Romney released his tax returns, and it was revealed that he earns about $57,000 a day from clipping coupons and pays just a 14% tax rate, more than half of those surveyed nationwide by YouGov (and we can’t vouch for their methodology, but they’re usually in the ballpark) said they believe the Mittster is not paying his fair share of taxes – worse than Gingrich, Obama and even Bill Gates.
And that was before the New York Times revealed the extent of Romney’s cozy relationship with Goldman Sachs – the investment banking firm that got Mitt’s protégé eMeg Whitman in hot water during her campaign for California governor in 2010.
Meanwhile, Newt has discovered what Calbuzz has, since July 2010, called the Death of Truth. This is rich, given that he is one of the progenitors of the Big Lie technique in American politics, one of his latest being his supposed loyalty and oneness with Ronald Reagan although, for example, as Eliott Abrams noted in the National Review, in 1985 he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”
Mittens lies: Gingrich is correct about Romney: the facts don’t and won’t matter to him. (Although, we gotta say, Tom Brokaw and NBC have no valid complaint against the Romney ad that uses Terrific Tom’s broadcast about Newt’s ethics charges.) But even if Grinch is right about Romney’s tendency to prevaricate, that won’t stop Mitt from trying to portray Obama as un-American. This has been and will be how he tries to frame the debate against the president.
“If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president,” Romney said in a foreign policy speech at the Citadel. “You have that president today.” Which caused Walter Rodgers to note in the Christian Science Monitor that Romney seems unmoved “by the fact that this president increased military spending in each of his three years in office, ordered more drone attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda than his predecessor, and took out Osama bin Laden.”
Another way Romney argues that Obama is France is the contention that the president “doesn’t have a jobs plan.” Which, as Benjy Sarlin noted at Talking Point Memo, is simply untrue.
“President Obama has been pushing a bill called the American Jobs Act for months, a $447 billion package that includes billions in tax cuts, funding to prevent teacher layoffs, and investments in education and transportation infrastructure. You may remember it from the time he called a rare joint session of Congress in September to announce the legislation or from the many times the Senate debated its individual components throughout the rest of the year. By all indicators, it will play a central role in his re-election campaign. Disagree with it if you will, but it’s factually inaccurate to say he doesn’t have a plan.” (Psst Benjy, we call that a “lie.”)
We don’t expect Obama to counter-argue “L’etat c’est moi.” But if he had any sense of humor, he might try “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s worked before.