Misleading, But Effective

The centerpiece of Mitt Romney’s campaign today is a web video on the human cost of the “Obama economy.” It focuses on three individuals, still out of work, and ends on this note: “Hope and change has not been kind to millions of Americans, but they still believe in this great country, and deserve a leader who believes in them: Mitt Romney.” The video is a little long, but worth watching in full:

Like the Bain Capital ad from the Obama campaign, this works because it keeps the Romney campaign out of the way, and gives individuals the space to tell their stories. What’s more, if the Bain Capital ad was an effective attack on Romney’s claim to competence, then this is an equally effective attempt at obscuring the Republican roots of the economic crisis, and pinning all blame on President Obama.

What stands out about this video is that the Romney campaign has moved away from acknowledging any roots to the crisis, which would require a nod to the previous, Republican pesident–and treating the Great Recession as a random event—like a bad hurricane or tornado—for which no one is responsible.

In this narrative, the GOP didn’t mismanage the economy into the deepest downturn since the Great Depression. Rather, the economic crisis simply happened, ex nihilo, and Obama did nothing to stop or mitigate it. What’s more, he made things worse, with government spending and an explosion of debt. Romney will rely on this version of the past when he gives a speech this morning, in Des Moines, Iowa, where he’ll focus on the “unprecented growth of government, spending and debt under President Obama.” Presumably, it’s government action—and not Republican policies followed by obstruction—that is responsible for our sluggish economy.

But this is nonsense. The Bush administration actually happened, and its actions—or rather, its active disinterest—helped create a juggernaut of risk that almost toppled the economy. The stimulus package passed in 2009 stabilized things, and the Obama administration took further efforts to extend unemployment benefits, expand food stamps, and extend more aid to states. If government spending hasn’t worked to bring the unemployment rate down to pre-recession levels, it’s because there hasn’t been enough. Even still, the economy has created 4.2 million jobs since Obama entered office, besting George W. Bush’s eight-year total by 1.2 million jobs.

Moreover, government spending hasn’t increased much under President Obama. The deficit is a product of historically low revenues and an economic downturn. When you remove both from the equation, government spending has gone down substantially under Obama; spending is nearly 2 percent lower now than it was at the beginning of his term. By contrast, government spending had climbed by 6 percent at this point in Bush’s term. Given our economic straits, this isn’t a good thing. But it’s simply false to say that we’re witnessing some unprecedented explosion in the growth of government.

The problem for Obama is that, from where most voters sit, this is fairly esoteric. No one actually cares whether Obama is really responsible for government spending, or if he’s been hampered by constant Republican obstruction. They want relief, and Mitt Romney has offered his expertise. For Obama to succeed, he needs to show—convincingly—that Romney is peddling a false narrative and failed policies. Given the degree to which the fundamentals are leaning against him, this is not an easy task.