Wisely Eschewing Specifics, Romney Banks on the Tendency to Try Something New

Friday, August 31, 2012

If the goal of Mitt Romney’s speech last night in Tampa was to humanize the former Massachusetts governor in the eyes of the undecided, it succeeded.

He radiated plain, old-fashioned Midwestern goodness when describing his upbringing and family.

“My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all, the gift of unconditional love,” Romney said.  “They cared deeply about who we would be and much less about what we would do.  Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren.  All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal the world like the loving hearts and arms of loving mothers and fathers.”

When trying to be funny, he actually was.

In the early days of Bain Capital, Romney said, “I thought about asking my church’s pension fund to invest, but I didn’t.  I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investor’s money, but I didn’t want to go to hell, too.”

When reviewing his record at Bain, he was the soul of humility.

“…we weren’t always successful at Bain, but no one ever is in the real world of business,” Romney said.  “That’s what the president does not seem to understand.  Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving.  It’s about dreams.  Usually it doesn’t work out exactly as you might have imagined.”

And when criticizing Obama, he was measured and restrained, reminding one of a kindly but clear-eyed boss chiding a talented underling who has blown a big assignment.

“I wish President Obama had succeeded,” Romney said, “because I want America to succeed.  But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.  This isn’t something we have to accept.”

(There, there, President Obama, you can run along now.)

And if the goal of Romney’s speech was to avoid saying anything too specific about his blueprint for an American turnaround, it definitely succeeded.

See if you can connect the dots between Romney’s five-step economic plan and the 12 million new jobs he’s promising to create: 

Step 1.  Make North America energy-independent by 2020 “by taking inventory of our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear and renewables.”

Step 2.  Give Americans “the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow.” 

Step 3.  Make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements…“and when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.”

Step 4.  “Assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish, as have those in Greece.”  He added, “We will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.”

Step 5.  Champion small businesses.  “That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them,” he explained.  “It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small businesses the most.  And it means we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

A few bits of confetti were still dropping from the ceiling of the Tampa Bay Times Forum when Obama’s campaign manager was telling Matt Murphy of the Boston-based State House News Service that Romney had “offered many personal attacks and gauzy platitudes, but no tangible ideas to move the country forward.”

Said Messina, “What he didn’t share were his actual proposals, which would take our country backwards: another $5 trillion in budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, paid for by the middle class; transforming Medicare into a voucher program on the backs of seniors; an end to fuel efficiency standards and tax credits for renewable energy; deep cuts in student grants and loans; and the rollback of Wall Street reforms.”

It’s usually good to avoid “tangible ideas” as much as possible when campaigning for public office.

Someone wise in the ways of politics once criticized the failed campaign of Charlie Baker for Massachusetts Governor in 2010 by saying, “You don’t tell people how you’re going to govern before you govern.”  He regarded Baker’s announced intention to lay off 5,000 state employees as foolhardy, for example, because “right off the bat, you have every state employee and every relative of every state employee voting against you.”

So this is how the next ten weeks will play out in presidential politics.

Republicans will continue to hit Obama hard as a spectacular failure, the guy who spoke of “slowing the rise of the oceans,” but found himself unable to cope with rising unemployment.  And they will basically change the subject every time they’re asked how, exactly, Romney will produce all those jobs he’s boasting about.

Democrats will continue to slam Romney as a tool of the wealthy and an enemy of the middle class.  And they will seize every opportunity to stir up concerns about the implications of Romney’s policy choices.

When what you’ve been doing isn’t working so well, the human tendency is to try something new, which is why Republicans will want to talk mainly about Obama’s record and Democrats about how bad that new thing could actually be.

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