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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Has Government Forgotten Who It Answers To?



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Is Romney Dropping the Ball? Or Is This Just the Ebb and Flow of a Campaign?

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to believe that if we were running a presidential campaign, everything would be going gangbusters. We like to believe that if we were writing the candidates’ speeches and creating the ads and picking the themes and messages, we would have our guy up by twenty points. Of course, if it were that easy, all of our favorite candidates would be winning in landslides year after year. Try volunteering on a campaign, and see if your arguments work on actual voters. Perhaps they will, and you are indeed the genius at constructing messages and arguments that you long suspected you were! But there’s also a good chance that you’re a genius at constructing messages and arguments that appeal to you, and you are unrepresentative of the electorate as a whole. For starters, you’re probably much better informed about current events than the average voter.

You may have some brilliant argument that lays out the disturbing ramifications from the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling, and yet perhaps 30 percent of the electorate would say, “What Obamacare ruling?” and another 15 percent could say, “Oh, you mean the decision that overturned Obamacare?” You and ‘low-information’ undecided voters might as well be speaking different languages.

Having said all that, it does seem fair to ask . . . is the Romney campaign starting to slip up?

The editors of the Wall Street Journal:

This latest mistake is of a piece with the campaign’s insular staff and strategy that are slowly squandering an historic opportunity. Mr. Obama is being hurt by an economic recovery that is weakening for the third time in three years. But Mr. Romney hasn’t been able to take advantage, and if anything he is losing ground.

The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault. We’re on its email list and the main daily message from the campaign is that “Obama isn’t working.” Thanks, guys, but Americans already know that. What they want to hear from the challenger is some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is assailing Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch rich man, and the rich man obliged by vacationing this week at his lake-side home with a jet-ski cameo. Team Obama is pounding him for Bain Capital, and until a recent ad in Ohio the Romney campaign has been slow to respond.

Team Obama is now opening up a new assault on Mr. Romney as a job outsourcer with foreign bank accounts, and if the Boston boys let that one go unanswered, they ought to be fired for malpractice.

By the way, it wasn’t that long ago that the Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, Tweeted, “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.”

Then William Kristol jumps in:

Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running?

Adopting a prevent defense when it’s only the second quarter and you’re not even ahead is dubious enough as a strategy. But his campaign’s monomaniacal belief that it’s about the economy and only the economy, and that they need to keep telling us stupid voters that it’s only about the economy, has gone from being an annoying tick to a dangerous self-delusion.

So, sure, Romney ought to hammer Obama on the economy. But this election is about topics even bigger than the economy, and sometimes you get the feeling that Romney might actually be good at this stuff, if he just let loose.

One easy topic: government competence and what taxpayers get for their money. When we see government making a mistake, does President Obama ever seem that bothered? Allegedly he’s “apoplectic” about the GSA spending scandal, but I don’t think he ever made any public comment on it. He shrugs off the Solyndra losses, arguing that these types of programs “entail some risk, by definition.” Even when the government makes glaring mistakes in ways that should irk liberals in the president’s base, like the Minerals Management Service’s oversight of the Deepwater Horizon rig, he claimed to not know whether the agency’s head had been fired and complimented her on the way out the door, saying she was a “strong leader” and adding, “we have done tremendous work.”

Beyond Solyndra, there’s one expensive bankrupt boondoggle after another — Beacon Power, Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, AES subsidiary Eastern Energy, Abound Solar. Nevada Geothermal. The irony is that the Obama campaign is attacking Romney as tight-fisted, ruthless investor at the exact time that Obama has gambled with taxpayer money and lost, time and again. Every time Obama suggests you’re some ruthless capitalist, make the case against ruthless crony capitalism, governor.

Mitt Romney doesn’t have to demonize government employees, but he has a strong case to make that in too many corners of this country, a culture of complacency has taken root and let incompetence flourish. We have teachers who can’t teach, who tell children they can be jailed for criticizing the president. We have multiple layers of unnecessary bureaucracy at agencies with vital duties: Paul Light wrote, “In a 2005 study, I found an average of 18 layers between, say, the secretary of agriculture and the forest ranger, or the secretary of the interior and the oil-rig inspector—up from seven layers in 1960.” The signs are all around us that the government has forgotten who they answer to — the people.

The opportunities are there, Team Romney. It’s summer. Open up your offense a little bit. Sometimes playing it safe isn’t all that safe.


Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney


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