By JONATHAN GURWITZ
New York Times News Service
So the election isn’t quite over. Before Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Denver, the conventional wisdom was that public opinion polls showed an electoral map with an Obama victory written in stone. But the polls, in addition to being imperfect, are also impermanent.
Polls are numerical snapshots. Elections are moving pictures with plotlines written by human agents. Here’s what Mitt Romney needs to do to author a Republican victory on Nov. 6.
First, Romney must make President Obama own his economic record, something that the president’s team seems embarrassingly willing to do. Last week in North Carolina, Vice President Joe Biden wailed about “the middle class that has been buried the last four years.” Who exactly does he think has been shoveling dirt on them?
Here are the facts. The Obama administration presided over the longest period of unemployment above 8 percent since the Great Depression.
An Associated Press analysis of 10 U.S. recessions since World War II and the recoveries that followed them found that “by just about any measure, the one that began in June 2009 is the weakest.”
Median incomes have fallen 7.3 percent since President Obama took office, or $4,000 per family. Under his watch, Standard & Poor’s for the first time downgraded U.S. government debt.
The recession ended more than three years ago. This is an economy that President Obama built. Nobody else made that happen.
Second, Romney must make the election a referendum on the size and scope of government. Rather than being a one-time “boost” to the economy, the president’s $787 billion so-called stimulus set a new baseline for federal spending that has created four consecutive years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
FactCheck.org notes that as a percentage of GDP, federal spending under President Obama “reached the highest level since World War II in fiscal 2009, and has declined only slightly since.” Federal debt held by the public is also at post-war highs. And all this is before the most expensive aspects of Obamacare take effect.
The solution proposed by the Obama economic team is — seriously — more of the same: more government, more spending, more debt, more quantitative easing and more cheap money, in addition to more taxes. In 2010, the president’s own debt commission warned, “Our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path.” After two more years of Obamanomics, trickle-down government still doesn’t work.
Third, Romney must offer a positive vision for the future. The most damning aspect of the “47 percent” video is not that his argument about who pays taxes and who receives government benefits was wrong or that he seemed so willing to dismiss such a large portion of the electorate. It is, instead, that his endorsement of economic determinism betrayed an obliviousness to the conservative goal of empowering individuals.
Can anyone imagine Ronald Reagan telling any gathering under any circumstances anything even remotely close to what Romney said? Of course not. Reagan would have talked about the desire of all people to be in control of their lives, to support themselves and their families and to determine their own destinies rather than being dependent on the beneficence of the state. And rather than writing people off, he would have laid out a framework for economic empowerment that appeals across all social, ethnic and racial boundaries. Romney should do the same.
Time is short. The sliver of the electorate that is undecided or swayable is growing smaller. President Obama is unlikely to perform as miserably at the remaining two debates as he did Wednesday night. But Romney finally has some momentum. The question now, with one month to go until the election, is whether he can sustain it.