The trouble with Romney—and for Romney—is that he has etched an unappealing sketch of himself. For independent voters, he made too many flip-flops in policy to appease the right. Indeed, he had an uncanny knack for offering an easy target for his opposition: “I like being able to fire people,” “I’m also unemployed,” “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” and “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.” He seems to be living in another world, referring to middle income as being in the range of “$200,000 to $250,000,” when the median income is more like $50,000. By the way, after four years of Obama’s economic stewardship, that figure represents a dramatic decline of 10 percent and, in fact, is a strong point to Romney’s case against the administration.
Such careless remarks have made it easy for the Obama campaign to get away with a program that pits “the millionaires and billionaires” against the people. It is a dishonest, divisive campaign. It’s discouraging of enterprise. It does the opposite of uniting the country to deal with the current economic crisis. The argument on taxes is not just about whether the super-rich should pay more, a reasonable position which I support in a country where income and equality disparities have become more glaring than they already were. It is about whether individuals, households, and small businesses should now be seen to cross the threshold into a plutocracy when earnings reach $250,000 a year—which buys much less in metropolitan areas than in the heartland. It is outrageous to infer that aspiring to reach such a level is somehow un-American, and the Obama campaign surely must know that. Shame on them if they don’t!
Whether Romney wins or loses on November 6th–and alas, the evidence is piling up that he will lose–the fact is that on November 7th, one way or the other, his personal finances are going to be immaterial. What will be material is the remaining question of what we are going to do to get ourselves out of the economic mess we are in. We aren’t talking about that material issue because if we do, we will inconvenience the president’s re-election campaign and the last thing that the president wants is for his re-election campaign to be inconvenienced in any way. So instead, we are fixated on Romney’s gaffes, on Romney’s money, and on Romney’s tax returns.
We’ll have to talk about the material issues–such as what we are going to do to avoid massive sequestration cuts in the budget that will surely knock us back into a recession–once election season is over. But we are leaving ourselves less and less time to grapple with those issues. We should be grappling with them now, but since the president and his party would rather make Mitt Romney the issue than deal with the issues of the day, we are kicking the can down the road.
This isn’t good leadership. It isn’t even good management. But it is the campaign we are stuck with. Yes, Romney deserves his share of criticism for helping to bring this state of affairs about, but while it certainly benefits him to talk more about the economy, at the very least, he’s talking about it. Too bad Barack Obama continues to prefer that we focus more on what Romney does with his money than on what the president is doing and wants to continue to do with ours.