Team Romney has two messages on Barack Obama and his administration. The first, geared towards conservatives and Republican-leaning voters, is that Obama is a weak and feckless leader who has crippled the economy with socialism and ruined our standing with appeasement. This is the Obama who “apologizes” for America, and who seeks to remake the United States in the image of Europe — complete with government takeovers and state-fostered “dependency.”
The other message, geared towards everyone else, is that Obama disappoints because he is “in over his head.” “The president is a nice guy,” Romney says, “but he doesn’t have a clue about how to get this country going again.” Of the two, this is the stronger message; it speaks to the nation’s disappointment without disparaging the president or leaning on a verdict — Obama’s failure is rooted in sinister ideology — which isn’t shared by most voters.
Team Romney continually veers between attacking these two different Obamas — what you might call the “Good Obama, Bad Obama” syndrome. Recently, Romney has stepped up the right-wing attacks on the “bad” Obama — hitting him on welfare reform, “redistribution,” and his performance abroad — to generate conservative enthusiasm.
Now, after one of the worst weeks in recent election history — and a series of polls that show him falling behind among all voters — it seems Romney has decided to return to attacking the good Obama. His latest Web ad, “No, I Can’t,” takes a line from President Obama’s appearance at the Univision forum last week — “you can’t change Washington from the inside” — and spins it into a narrative of false promise and disappointment. Take a look:
This is a good idea, executed terribly. Low production values aside, it’s an obvious pander to young voters, nonwhites and women. The big problem, besides the sense of insincerity that permeates the ad, is that the entire argument is based off of another out-of-context quote. Here’s Obama’s full statement.
What Obama actually said is not an admission that change is impossible — it’s a statement about the best strategy for winning victories and achieving change. And it can be directly connected to Obama’s previous statements, and the democratic hopes people had for him in 2008 — the belief that he could turn the grassroots into a force for genuine political power.
There’s a certain desperation to Team Romney’s reliance on out-of-context attacks. When a campaign relies entirely on fabricated gaffes, it’s hard to escape the sense that it is panicking. With an economic message that doesn’t resonate, and a candidate defined by his worst qualities, Team Romney is throwing everything against the wall, in hopes that something — anything — will stick.