The worst economy since the Great
Depression and you might think at least one of the candidates would come
up with a few big ideas for how to get us out of it.
But you'd be wrong. Neither candidate wants to take any chances
by offering any large, serious proposals. Both are banking instead on
negative campaigns that convince voters the other guy would be worse.
President Obama has apparently decided against advancing any
bold ideas for what he'd do in the second term, even if he has a
Congress that would cooperate with him.
He's sticking to a worn script that says George W. Bush caused
the lousy economy, congressional Republicans have opposed everything
he's wanted to do to boost it, it's slowly on the mend anyway, the Bush
tax cuts shouldn't be extended for the rich, and we shouldn't take a
chance electing Romney.
Yet the public wants bigger ideas from the President, and wants
to know what he'll do in his second term to get us out of this mess. A New York Times-CBS
News poll released last week showed that a majority of voters believe
the president "can do a lot about" the economy. That's a double-digit
jump from the fall of 2011.
The President could propose a new WPA, modeled after the
Depression-era jobs program that hired hundreds of thousands of jobless
Americans to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, or a new Civilian
He could suggest permanently exempting the first $25,000 of
income from payroll taxes, and making up the lost revenues by
eliminating the ceiling on income subject to it. He could propose
resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act and breaking up the big banks, so
Wall Street doesn't cause another financial collapse.
But you won't hear any of this, or anything else of this
magnitude, because the White House doesn't want to take any risks. Polls
give Obama a slight edge in the critical eight or so battleground
states, so, the thinking goes in the Obama camp, why say anything that
might give Romney and the GOP a target?
Besides, polls also show Romney isn't well-liked by the electorate.
So Obama has decided to campaign as the anti-Romney.
Mitt Romney is playing it even more cautiously. His economic
plan is really a non-plan: more tax cuts for the rich, undefined
spending cuts, and no details about how he'd bring down the budget
deficit. No presidential candidate since Herbert Hoover in 1928 has been
more vague about what he'd do on the critical issues facing the nation.
Romney's advisors assume Obama can't possibly be reelected with the economy this bad. Just 44 percent of registered voters in a Washington Post-ABC
News poll earlier this month approve of the job the president is doing
on the economy, while 54 percent disapprove. Even more encouraging for
Romney is that 41 percent of those polled "strongly" disapproved of
Obama's economic performance, while just 21 percent "strongly" approved --
an enthusiasm gap of major proportion.
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So Romney's advisors have concluded that all Romney has to do
between now and Election Day is avoid a mistake that might give Obama
and the Democrats something to shoot at.
Romney has decided to campaign as the anti-Obama.
The two anti-the-other-guy strategies fit with a ton of
negative advertising that's just begun but will reach mammoth
proportions after Labor Day. Much of it will be financed by super-PACs
and by political fronts already taking in hundreds of millions of
dollars in secret donations. Romney's camp hopes to out-negative Obama
by almost two to one.