Al-Qaida terrorists attack our consulate in Libya, brutally murdering our ambassador and three other men. And our president tries to spin the attack as the spontaneous actions of a mob angered by the insensitivity of a YouTube video.
The latest economic indicators (stagnant or falling personal income, entrenched unemployment, dramatically declining orders for durable goods) make clear that we are sliding backward (at best, running in place). And our president pretends that we are moving “forward.”
Yet despite our deteriorating position both abroad and at home, polls indicate that Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by significant margins in several swing states.
Obama’s perplexing surge at this moment of vulnerability can be attributed, in part, to smart political messaging. After months of ineffective negative campaigning, Obama supporters now spin a fairy tale (impossible to prove or disprove) that, while the economy is bad and the Middle East is burning, things would have been much worse without HIM.
And so, at the first debate tonight, Obama’s task is two-fold: 1) embellish the narrative that he is the man who stepped on the brakes when we were headed off the cliff, and 2) suggest that, in this uncertain time, switching drivers is too risky.
The reflexive response from Romney will be to hammer the president on his many failures. But this will not be enough. For to win this debate — indeed, the election — Romney needs to do more than point out Obama’s incompetence.
And he needs to demonstrate that our current president — a man who recoils at the very notion of American greatness — is incapable of restarting that car.
This should not be difficult. Unlike Romney, Obama’s guiding economic principles are not opportunity, experimentation and entrepreneurship, but rather entitlement, greater income equality and government protection from risk.
Romney must explain that Obama’s philosophy inevitably will lead to mediocrity, limited social mobility and financial collapse (as in Greece). And he must present himself not just as a more competent manager or an economic “Mr. Fix It,” but as a visionary who will unburden American ingenuity to put us back on the path to prosperity.
He must connect the dots — as he began to in his Monday column in The Wall Street Journal — to show that an America in economic decline is an America in global decline. That an America economically vulnerable to China is an America whose security is in jeopardy. That a culture of dependency at home projects an image of weakness abroad — an image reinforced by Obama’s “lead from behind”/“American apology” diplomacy.
It is not enough for Romney to pick apart Obama’s specific economic or international failings — although there are many. Nor is it enough simply to present a positive alternative to the president’s policy agenda. Romney must use the debates as an opportunity to attack Obama broadly and thematically. He must highlight the president’s reluctance to acknowledge America’s greatness abroad as well as his desire to limit individual greatness at home.
And Romney must paint himself as a champion of American Exceptionalism — committed to restoring our nation’s leadership role in the world and to reinvigorating this country’s entrepreneurial spirit.
At tonight’s debate, Barrack Obama will speak for liberalism. Mitt Romney must speak for America.