Missing Massachusetts

In all this back-and-forth about Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital (which, by the way, I think is a very good thing for the public, but that's a topic for another post) there's one other subject that has been crowded out, seemingly by a tacit agreement by both campaigns. And that's this place called Massachusetts. You might remember it. Mitt Romney lived there for a time.

Ordinarily, when a former governor runs for president, the two sides engage in a vigorous debate about the former governor's state. He says it's the most dynamic, exciting, splendiferous state in the union, and his opponent says it's actually a little slice of hell on earth. My favorite example of the latter is this ad from George H.W. Bush's 1992 campaign, which portrayed Bill Clinton's Arkansas as a post-apocalyptic hellscape where the only living thing in evidence is a vulture looking for the last few scraps of gristle it can pull off the carcass of little children's dreams. You can almost see Mount Doom in the background:

That's how things usually go. But you may have noticed that this year, the Obama campaign isn't saying anything of the sort about Massachusetts. Maybe that's because it's pretty hard to criticize the place in macro terms. Massachusetts ranks at or near the top in a whole host of measures like education and income, and it also has the country's lowest divorce rate (which is so weird, given the fact that gay people are allowed to marry there, so you would have thought all the straight couples would have gotten divorced by now). It has some of the world's finest universities, and thriving high-tech industries. Almost everyone there even has health insurance.

That last point tells you why Mitt Romney doesn't talk much about Massachusetts or his tenure as governor there. It's not that he doesn't have some things he could brag about. But it's almost impossible for him to discuss those things without reminding voters of all the changes in position and tortured explanations he has gone through since he started running for president in 2007. He'd rather not talk about Mitt Romney the governor, because that was a completely different guy than Mitt Romney the presidential candidate. So the strategic decision he made was to present himself as a business leader who has really never had anything to do with politics, in Massachusetts or anywhere else.

Put all this together, and the Obama campaign isn't going to criticize Massachusetts, and the Romney campaign isn't going to praise it. Which means that when we talk about Mitt Romney, we're going to be talking mostly about stuff like Bain Capital. And Romney doesn't have much grounds to complain about that, since it's the campaign he decided to run.

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