Alright, we're a month into the campaign and already things are looking more favorable for Mitt Romney than anyone might have expected. He's pretty much wrapped up North Carolina and made Michigan and Wisconsin competitive. If nothing else, this will mean Obama must divert resources from Colorado and Ohio, which he's absolutely going to have to have in order to win the electoral vote.
The stickler is going to be Virginia. It seems like it should be a Republican state, judging from the most recent gubernatorial election. But the vast reach of federal employment into northern Virginia seems to be having an impact. Washington, D.C. is the only city in the country that has prospered in the Obama Era and it appears as if enough of this prosperity might filter out to northern Virginia to win the whole state. It would be ironic indeed if the final impact from Obama's financial blowout were to buy enough votes in his back yard to turn the election.
But not to worry. We've still got a long long way to go.
The most important thing about this election is that Obama has painted himself into a corner. He won in 2008 because he was able to widen his appeal to broad swathes of the electorate, including most of Wall Street and people making more than $100,000. With nothing to show for his four years, however, he's turned to demonizing these people. Lots of luck. He's managed to turn all that money against him on the wild gamble that somehow all this will appeal to the "middle class."
But the middle class isn't looking for handouts. It didn't vote for him in 2008 and is even less likely to this time. Only the truly poor really respond to this "grow the government" stuff. Thus Obama's only hope is that he has forced enough people out of the middle class and into poverty so that they will vote for him. With the generation just coming out of college, it may work. These kids have no memory of Reagan and don't even know what a thriving private sector looks like. But anybody who can remember the "malaise" that hung over the nation during Jimmy Carter and the jolt of creativity that came when Reagan took over knows it can happen again.
In such a situation, Romney's strategy is surpassingly simple. Be the happy warrior. Be positive, exude confidence, attract people to your cause. Tour the country spreading good cheer while The President remains huddled in a defensive crouch in the White House. "America's best days are still ahead of us." That's exactly right. I haven't heard one false note out of this campaign and the people running it obviously know what they're doing. This bus trip over the past week was a stroke of genius. I think he should do about six more before the end of the campaign. (Remember, it was a bus trip that launched Bill Clinton and Al Gore on the road to victory in 1992.) Romney has to mix it up with the public. He's got to gain more of the common touch. It's not just a matter of photo ops, it's the education he'll get himself.
Romney has obviously led a somewhat sheltered life. He's been in prep school, Harvard, Bain Capital. There's a lot he doesn't know and a lot he has to learn. But he can learn and if he does, it will show through quickly. If Romney rolls into the fall having learned things on the road, with a much firmer grasp on the pulse of the country, he will prove not only that he can do the job but that he can learn on the job, which is something Obama hasn't been able to do at all.
The only thing I worry about now is Romney's speaking style. Here I think he could learn a lesson from the President. Barack Obama supposedly learned his intonations from the Reverend Wright and that's not surprising. Anyone who ever heard a good African-American preacher rousing his flock has had to wonder, "Gee, what would happen if one of these evangelizers decided to go into politics?"
It's one of the strange and overlooked ironies of the age of Twitter and Facebook and instant communication that one of the biggest assets a candidate can have is the ability to give a good speech. Look at the Obama himself. He candidly admits his ability to give a good speech is his best (perhaps only?) asset. I was at a humdrum Washington event about a year ago when one of the speakers was a frumpy Tennessee Congressman who looked like he had just rolled out of bed. I was frankly wondering how he had ever got into his office when he took the podium and launched into a stem-winding oration that had everyone mesmerized.
The South has always been the home of great political speakers, but it's true everywhere. The current Brooklyn Borough President is a politician named Marty Markowitz who has made an entire career out of firing up audiences with his tumultuous speaking style. I once saw him address an all-black church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He climbed into the pulpit amid a few nervous titters and immediately roared, "I woke up this morning and knew it was going to be a beautiful day because I WAS GOING TO BE SPENDING IT WITH THE CONGREGATION OF THE AME ZIONIST CHURCH!!" He had the crowd on its feet within seconds.
Now I'm not saying Romney should try channeling Martin Luther King or William Jennings Bryan. That obviously wouldn't be him. But he could be more poetic. I saw the news clips after Obama made his colossal gaffe in saying "the private sector is doing fine." Romney picked it up but there was no cadence, no drama to his remarks. He sounded as if he were still addressing a seminar at Harvard Business School. "He thinks the private sector is doing just fine. Do you think the private sector is doing fine? I don't think the private sector's doing fine."
Come on. This is the time to roll out the rhetoric: I look around me and I see unemployment lines filled with hard-working Americans who haven't been able to find a job in two years. I see college graduates saddled with tens of thousand of dollars of debt and who realize their only hope is a two-year unpaid internship. I see families who never imagined themselves as anything but middle class applying for food stamps. I see a whole generation facing the prospect that they nay never be able to gain a foothold onto the ladder of success. And this President thinks the private sector is doing just fine? I don't think this President even knows what a private sector is. He thinks the way to grow the economy is to have the federal government borrow more money from China and give it to state and local governments to hire more… "teachers and firemen"?
Whoa, wait a minute. How did we get to teachers and firemen? People in Wisconsin and Iowa aren't objecting to hiring teachers and firemen. They just don't want to be bankrupted paying for pensions so teachers and firemen can retire at age 55. You don't criticize state and local governments by talking about people that everyone respects. You talk about an institution everybody hates -- like THE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES. President Obama wants to tax people out of their earnings and borrow more money from China so we can HIRE MORE PEOPLE FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES. There, that's it.
Oh well, it will take time. Fortunately, we've still got plenty of it. Martin Luther King didn't think up his "I Have a Dream" speech standing on the Capital Mall that hot August afternoon He had given it dozens of times before to smaller audiences. William Jennings Bryan had given his "Cross of Gold" speech a hundred times before addressing the 1896 Democratic Convention. You try out different themes, different metaphors, different phrases and gauge the audience's response until you find something that works.
It will happen, I have no doubt. At some point in the next few months, standing in front of the bus in some small town in Iowa, Romney is going to find the right words, the right phrases, the right tone of voice. Then everything will fall into place.