The General Motors bailout, for example, allowed Obama to rescue the unions at the expense of taxpayers and non-union workers. But he has campaigned as if the bailout single-handedly saved the entire auto industry and Ohio’s economy.
In contrast, the GOP has had a hard time offering a compelling picture of what a post-blue-model world looks like. What happens when GM is allowed to fail? Not the destruction of the auto industry but its reformation into something more competitive and flexible. The GOP has waffled on the issue, and polls show the Democrats have largely won on it.
The intense focus on China is another example of this contrast in visions. Free trade is largely a political loser in Ohio. Most voters simply refuse to believe that productivity and union inflexibility have more to do with jobs leaving the state than does China. So Romney talks tough and seeks to blame Obama for unfair trade practices. This may be the optimal strategy in the short term, but it reinforces the blue model rather than helps voters to see the future.
And conservative politicians and activists are not necessarily any better in this regard. Many are still focused on mantras about “lower taxes” and “smaller government,” as if the very words could magically win elections.
Promises about smaller government don’t directly address the fears of voters worried about their economic future in a fast-paced, high-tech, globalized economy. If voters believe that teachers, cops, and firefighters form the foundation of the middle class, then neither smaller government nor tax cuts will automatically appeal to them. In fact, many have repeatedly chosen higher taxes in response to proposed cuts to schools and public safety.
It isn’t that Romney and conservatives should defend bloated government or high taxes. Rather, we must address voters’ real fears. We must explain to them not only that the blue model is dying, and that propping it up prolongs and deepens the pain, but that a dynamic, decentralized, and free-market-driven economy will mean a better life for their families, their businesses, and their communities.
Republicans must convince voters that the president is unwilling to tell them the truth: that his policies reward political allies and contributors while undermining prosperity, and that Obama is moving the country not forward but backward — backward to a system that can no longer work.
Far too many Ohioans are tempted to keep muddling along rather than embrace this new landscape.
Romney has the opportunity to inspire them to embrace genuine change. He can convince Ohioans that he understands the economy as it exists and that, instead of doubling down on debt and stagnation, he has a plan to align America with economic reality in a way that releases innovation and prosperity.
— Kevin Holtsberry is a freelance writer and consultant living in Columbus, Ohio.