The Obama campaign is up with a new ad in Ohio that hits back at Mitt Romney’s suggestion — made most recently in a Romney campaign ad — that Obama’s auto bailout will result in American Jeep jobs getting shipped to China:
The ad reprises Romney’s opposition to the auto-bailout — and flatly calls Romney’s Jeep-to-China claim a “lie.” The script:
When the auto industry faced collapse, Mitt Romney turned his back. Even the conservative Detroit News criticized Romney for his “wrong-headedness” on the bailout. And now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie. The truth? Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio. Mitt Romney on Ohio jobs: Wrong then. Dishonest now.
As I wrote here the other day, the Obama campaign views the auto-bailout as a stark black and white case that dramatizes one of the most basic questions voters ask themselves: Who can they really trust to fight for them and to be on their side when it matters?
Back when Ohio needed the auto industry bailed out — and Obama took the politically risky step of proceeding with the rescue — Romney took the politically easy position. Attacking it was a good way to pander to conservatives in advance of the GOP primary. But then, when this position became problematic for him in the general election, he began to dissemble about it, falsely suggesting he’d supported government action up front when that’s simply not what happened. With time running out, Romney has run out of answers on the auto-bailout, and has now turned to the claim that it will result in American Jeep jobs getting shipped to China. That isn’t true either.
But this goes beyond a standard fact checking skirmish. Obama advisers see it as central to their closing argument against Romney's character. It isn’t just that Romney failed to support the auto-bailout when Ohioans really needed it; it’s that Romney doesn’t have the integrity to come clean about it now that he’s asking them for their help furthering his political ambitions. That’s why the ad combines the claim that Romney “turned his back” on the industry with the assertion that Romney is being “dishonest” about it “now.”
More broadly, as Jonathan Cohn has demonstrated, the argument over the auto bailout goes directly to the core differences between the two candidates over whether government should act to save American industry and over government’s proper role in guarding Americans from economic harm. Given the sluggish economy and public disillusionment with the stimulus — which has resulted in fertile soil for Romney’s demagoging about how government is to blame for people’s economic suffering — this has not been an easy argument for Obama to win.
But the auto-bailout is a case where government action unambiguously worked. Given that it helped save an industry that’s linked to one in eight Ohio jobs, it’s also a case where the true implications of Romney’s ideological hostility towards government intervention in the economy and his insistence on the magic of the unfettered free market can be dramatized in a way that connects with voters.