By Paolo von Schirach
July 10, 2012
WASHINGTON – The unfolding campaign for the US presidency is hardly inspiring. After a long and truly bitter struggle, Republican Mitt Romney managed to outfox and outspend a couple of quite unremarkable opponents (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) who, despite all their weaknesses, were getting a lot of votes in the primaries because Romney is not well liked among rank and file, conservative Republicans.
No compelling message from Romney
Well, now that he’s got the nomination, Romney has yet to fire up the masses. He has yet to articulate his Great Plan for America. The only trend working in his favor is the under performing US economy. Historically, when the economy does poorly for a long period of time the Americans demand a new coach. The problem is that the economy has been so weak (without being disastrous) for so long that my hunch is that people got used to it. They do not blame Obama. So, team Romney better think about something inspiring to say between now and November. Repeating that Obama’s economic policies are bad is just not enough to get elected.
Obama has got a couple of small ideas
As for the incumbent president, he has almost nothing to say about what he did in his first term and, far more significant, about what he intends to do in his second. His “Big Ideas” are really small. They consist in: a) a jobs plan focused on subsidized public sector hiring; b) the semi-amnesty for a chunk of (mostly Latino) young illegal immigrants; c) an extension of the Bush era tax cuts; but not for the rich. Let’s look at where these initiative are headed. The jobs plan has not chance of going anywhere, given Republican opposition in the House. Ditto for the tax cut as presented. The semi-amnesty for young illegals (only for two years, mind you) is an administrative action and thus it requires no law. Taken together these “proposals” have nothing to do with governing, but a lot to do with politics. These are nods to favorite constituencies. “Look at what goodies I would deliver to you, but these nasty Republicans do not allow me. So, vote for me and for Democrats in Congress”.
No Grand Plan
As, for everything else, nothing doing. This president has given up on governing and also on serious leadership. True enough, the Republican opposition in the House makes it certain that nothing of significance will become law. Still, it is the obligation of the president to lead. This should include presenting and advocating his agenda, his vision for America. And here there is essentially nothing.
Just to name a big one, there is no comprehensive plan for fiscal and tax reform, with spelled out goals for entitlements, a new tax system and a new vision for the role of Government in America. It is not a secret that, with no action, we are going down into the “Fiscal Cliff” at the end of this year, with mandatory spending cuts and tax increases so large and so destructive that only a mad man would allow any of that to happen.
Likewise, after the semi failure of a Government driven push into renewable energy, there is no articulation of a new energy policy that would take into account the significant new oil and gas discoveries that have radically changed the American energy outlook.
In foreign policy, there is the attempt to keep things quiet at least until after the elections. No US leadership and thus no action on the Syria crisis; sanctions but not much else for Iran; nothing on North Korea; zero on Israel-Palestine; mostly words of encouragement for Europe dealing with its debt crisis. The only visible change is the declared intention to play a stronger role in Asia. And this seems to be a way to court all the medium and small powers that feel uneasy about China’s growth.
Obama does have a re-election strategy…
That said, it is not true that Obama has no plan. He does indeed. Only it has nothing to do with governing. It consists in a pretty sophisticated manoeuvre to paint Mitt Romney as an out of control right-wing ideologue who wants to attack and destroy all entitlement programs created to shore up the incomes and health care services for the poor and the elderly.
Obama’s message is not that he has a vision about the next four years. His message is “Vote for me, because I am your friend. With me the gravy train keeps running. Romney is instead really bad news for seniors, for the young, and for the struggling middle class. He is out to get you, so that he can get more tax cuts for the super wealthy, such as himself. Vote for me and you’ll be safe. I’ll take care of you”.
…And it is working
You may think that such a caricature is totally preposterous; and so it will not stick. Well, look at the polls and you may want to reconsider. The strategy is working. Even with a bad economy that is actually getting worse, with unemployment stubbornly still at 8.2%, Obama is generally ahead nationally, (although not by huge margins). Most importantly, though, Obama is significantly ahead in all the swing states: including Ohio, Virginia and Florida. These are states that Romney must –absolutely must– win in order to get to the White House. So, this is it. If these numbers do not change, it is all over. Four more years.
Obama has a mediocre to bad record, and he is not presenting a policy agenda of any substance. But he surely has a well crafted strategy to get himself re-elected. (Summary: “Me? Perhaps not so great. But Romney is your enemy. Now, you pick“.) Of course, the American voters should demand a higher standard of political debate. Yet, sadly they don’t.