"We've Heard it All Before"

The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts:

This attack goes directly to the heart of Romney’s presidential campaign. The Republican nominee has based his entire on argument on the claim that—by dint of his business experience—he is uniquely qualified to lead the country into a more robust recovery. Indeed, private sector experience has totemic properties in Romney’s narrative; Obama is a failure because he’s “never met a payroll” and “doesn’t understand the economy,” while Romney sees business as the most important qualification a president can have.

But, with a quote from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign—“I know how jobs are created”—the Obama campaign raises a basic question: When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts he used his business experience as proof he could create jobs for Massachusetts, instead, he led the state to the bottom of the pack for job creation. Now, running for president, he’s using the same arguments. Why should we expect different results this time? This is a play on the familiar trope of the businessperson who talks more than they deliver, and it could be an effective assault on Romney’s perceived competence, especially if paired with continued attacks on Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign has had an interesting and familiar response to this attack. As Pema Levy points out at Talking Points Memo, the Romney team correctly hits Obama for neglecting the extent to which the former governor inherited a bad situation. Here’s Ed Gillespie, a surrogate for the Romney campaign:

“This is what they’re doing, Chris,” Gillespie said. “You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last … and they’re averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office.”

This is exactly what the Romney campaign is doing with regards to Obama’s economic record. By blaming Obama for job losses that occurred before his policies passed or took effect, the Romney team is able to say that the United States lost jobs under his tenure. But if you count from when Obama’s policies took effect, then you end up with more than two years of private sector job growth.

This situation is similar to the one that developed last year, when the Romney team hammered Obama with a deeply misleading ad that took the president’s words out of context. When Democrats responded with their own set of context-free attacks, the Romney campaign cried foul. In other words, if the Romney campaign insists on using misleading attacks, then it has to expect that the same treatment in response. You can’t cry for teacher when you’re the one who started the fight.

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