by David L. Alvord DDS
It has been three days since President Obama was reelected. The President got ten million fewer votes than he got four years ago, but it was enough to win. It wasn't so much that Obama won, but more that his opponent lost. So who was Obama's opponent? He must have been a terrible candidate, right? One would assume that he was worse than Kerry, worse than Dole. But actually, the opposite was true. In my opinion, never before had the nation been presented a candidate who so perfectly matched the problems America faced and still faces.
Everyone knew that America was and is deeply in debt. Everyone knew that our economy was and is not as good as it should be. The President faced a candidate who had turned around countless organizations. Romney's resume was deep, his record was one of high achievement, and not only were there no skeletons in his closet, he actually had no closet. And get this: Mitt Romney looks like a President. Was Mitt a poor debater? No, he was a superb debater. Was he too extreme? No, Mitt was much more moderate than the president. The election should have been a slam-dunk for Romney.
So what happened?
Much as been written about changing demographics. Much has been said about Republicans failing to get more of the minority vote and the Hispanic vote. Other questions have been asked since the election like: "Is America becoming less conservative"? Are we becoming a nation who wants hand-outs? Was the democratic "get-out-the-vote" apparatus more effective? Was Obama more likable than Romney?
While each of the above factors contributed to Romney's defeat. I would like to present what I believe should have been central to the campaign, and yet was strangely absent.
"What got us into this mess?"
It has been said that our nation is divided. We are conservatives vs. liberals. The rich vs. the poor. The workers vs. the idle. And yet, nearly 100% of Americans have felt the effects of the recession. Each of us has had our home go down in value, each of us has had to tighten our belts. The housing bubble, with the subsequent collapse was felt by nearly all of us.
I believe that it was Romney's inability to effectively explain "what got us into this mess" that was his undoing.
Obama's explanation was pretty simple. "We can't return to the policies that got us into this mess". When asked to expound, Obama would explain that tax-cuts for the wealthy, and a lack of regulations are what got us into the mess we are now in. Whether or not you think his statement was accurate, the President was offering some kind of explanation. You'll notice that he never went much deeper than this. "The Bush policies got us into this mess, and Romney wants to return to those policies." It was actually pretty brilliant.
So what was Romney's explanation for the collapse of 2007? He never offered one. In fact, Romney's stump speech often admitted that "Obama didn't cause the collapse", but simply that the "President had made it worse". Mitt also went on to say that the first rule of any turnaround is to "focus, focus, focus". But focus on what? What was the problem? Was Mitt conceding the point, that it was indeed Bush's fault for the housing bubble? That tax-breaks caused the recession? That lack of regulations were at the heart of the whole fiasco?
You see, Mitt gave no answer to the President's central argument; that the Bush policies are "what got us into this mess". Notice I used the phrase gave no answer. There certainly were answers for what got us into the mess. It may have been a lack of regulation, but it was a lack of regulation of a program that government had no business ever engaging in. Over and over, I heard the President make the case that the Bush tax-cuts, and lack of regulation were what got us in the mess in the first place. And what was Romney's response? I never heard one.
Time magazine gave an excellent overview of who really was to blame here. The article goes through 25 people to blame. On the list is Bush, but guess who else was there: Democrats, including Bill Clinton. So there was certainly plenty of blame to go around. But never has anybody with any credibility ever attributed the housing bust to the Bush tax cuts.
Obama was sloppy. He tried to blame everything on Bush. His argument was only effective if no one ever called him out on it. And yet, no one ever did call the President out on this.
Mitt should have owned this subject. A turnaround artist learns what is going wrong, and then fixes it. Throughout the campaign, I kept wondering when Romney was going to respond to Obama's silly charge that Mitt wanted to return us to Bush. I wanted to see Mitt give a speech entitled "What really got us into this mess". Romney could have put on his suit and tie, got out power-point, and gave a step-by-step analysis as to what really got us into the mess, who really was to blame (include Rs and Ds) and what to do about it. I envision the speech being detail rich and full of charts and facts and figures. Give us a sample as to what the CEO turnaround artists does when he's in action. Once Romney demonstrates that he "get's it", he could then add, "you see, adding Obamacare at the end of one crisis only made matters worse, it was going from one crisis to another". Romney needed to demonstrate that he was the master of the subject.
And so, when the Republican convention came along, I was expecting a big educational event. A time to set the record straight. A time to admit where Republicans had been wrong, and where we'd been right. A convention full of facts and figures. A conservative forum to tout our ideas, and to prove where they had worked. Instead, it was vague. It was flag-waving, and Obama bashing. It was at times petty. "We did build that!" An entire convention based on a gaffe by the President? I have to admit that I feared we had lost the election the minute I heard Romney say: "I don't want to lower the oceans, I want to help you and your family".
Ouch! Ronald Reagan had once said that "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help'." And then there goes Mitt, "I'm going to help you and your family". Totally vague, and totally assuming undecided voters would buy such a vague promise.
In contrast, Bill Clinton gave the kind of speech the Republicans should have been giving all through their convention. He had facts and figures. He had details. He got into the weeds. He showed real passion. He spoke to the big recession and said "Let me assure you, no one could have done any better with the economy the President was handed". Clinton spoke to 100% of the American people. He spoke directly. He spoke without pandering. He didn't assume we were stupid.
Many of you know that I have been one of the biggest Romney supporters ever known. I read his book, No Apology. I happen to still firmly believe he would have made a fantastic president. His policies were ones that I almost salivated over. But there was a disconnect from the Romney who wrote the book, and the Romney who ran for President.
Why did he not address the central argument Obama had made? Was it due to the fact that he had hired McCain people? Was it his campaign strategy? He admits in a leaked video that he figured the race was 47% vs. 47%. That he had to win over the middle, or the undecideds. Was that kind of thinking that prevented him from seeing that 100% of the American people wanted some kind of explanation as to what caused the recession in the first place?
I don't believe that Americans rejected conservatism. I believe that they simply went with the candidate who most effectively spoke to what got us into our current mess, and what would get us out of the mess. The frustrating part for me is that Romney never lost the argument, but was, instead, absent from the argument. An argument, I believe he could have won easily.
I hope Republicans learn the right lessons from this election. And it would help if the American people woke up a little more too. If Obama fails to turnaround the economy in 8 years, he'll be left with little excuse.
2016 can't come soon enough.