Mitt Romney is looking desperate.
Trying to move the conversation away from a video of Romney disparaging 47 percent of the country, Romney’s campaign on Wednesday released a memorandum attacking President Obama for comments he made in 1998 about redistributing wealth. The “newly-unearthed” Obama quote reads:
[T]he trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure everybody’s got a shot.
Are we supposed to be shocked now?
For those determined to be offended, a few of Obama’s words — “the trick is” and “redistribution” — will probably be enough evidence of a long-held plot to create, as the Romney campaign’s memorandum terms it, “a government-centered society.”
But to everyone else it should come off as little more than a cautious endorsement of the mechanics of a mild welfare state. Obama qualified almost everything he said. He wanted “some redistribution” “at least at a certain level” and only “to make sure everybody’s got a shot.” If anything, this quote depicts an Obama rejecting the notion that government should guarantee equal outcomes and advocating the idea that government has a role in promoting equal opportunity, which requires some tax revenue.
Then there are the parts of Obama’s statement the Romney campaign chose not to reprint, in which he adopted the slogans of a late-1990s New Democrat at a time when Bill Clinton was talking about competent — not big — government. Obama spoke of “resuscitating the notion that government action can be effective at all,” but he admitted that notion was in danger of dying in part because of government’s record of waste and inefficiency. Government had to be more “innovative” and “effective,” he said, or it would deserve repudiation. If the Romney campaign is right that Obama’s 1998 speech is tellingly representative of the president’s instincts, then a whole lot of Americans would have much in common with him.
There are far better ways to criticize this president than pretending a 14-year-old quote is some sort of revelation. Romney has only made himself look weaker.