Mitt Romney gave a speech in Michigan today. It was emblematic of what is right and what is not right with his campaign.
On the positive side, he’s doing a good job of pinning the economy on President Obama. Romney said: “ In his campaign kickoff speech last week, he asked us not to think about these last four years. Convenient, but not convincing. Ignoring his record would bind us to repeat it. He is asking us, nevertheless, to look only to the years ahead, to consider how much better his policies will make things down the road. But in our hearts we know. As much as we’d like to believe him, we know that America is going in the wrong direction.”
Romney explained that the “old” liberal ideas (I think they are the new liberal ideas as well) — on taxes, debt, unions and an expanding welfare state — just don’t work. For the first time he spoke directly about “Life of Julia”: “Julia progresses from cradle to grave, showing how government makes every good thing in her life possible. The weak economy, high unemployment, falling wages, rising gas prices, the national debt, the insolvency of entitlements — all these are fictionally assumed away in a cartoon that is produced by a president who wants us to forget about them.”
And, to a certain extent, Romney sketched out his alternate vision. He promised:
I will improve health care by getting it to work more like a consumer market, and I will repeal and replace Obamacare. Individuals will be able to buy their own health insurance policies, either through their employer or directly. And the kind of competition we see in everything from auto insurance to cell phones to broadband will finally slow the growth of health-care costs.
I will improve schools and universities and colleges with greater choice, greater accountability and greater application of the technologies that have transformed so much of our economy.
I will help usher in a revival in American manufacturing. If we take an entirely new and different direction in energy, in trade and in labor policies, we will see more manufacturing jobs come back to America than those that are leaving America. I am absolutely convinced that with the right policies and leadership we can see a resurgence in American manufacturing.
New and emerging small businesses and so-called gazelle, or fast-growing, businesses will spring up across the country by instituting pro-growth regulations, pro-growth taxes, pro-growth intellectual property protections and pro-growth labor policies.
Now wait. Here’s where his speech is inexplicably vague if not incomprehensible. What is he proposing? It’s not like he doesn’t have a fully-formed agenda for budget cutting, entitlement and tax reform as well as energy and regulation. So why doesn’t he at least take a few of these (his tax plan, his energy plan) and explain what is in those? Really, there is no point in having well-conceived conservative policies if you don’t want to talk about them.
In this regard he is giving Obama a pass since the president really does not have specific agenda items. But that gap in specificity is obscured by Romney’s bloviating rhetoric and a mystifyingly reticence about spelling out what he is for in some detail.
There is another less glaring error in his speech. He doesn’t quite connect the dots between Obama’s old-style policies and the listing economy. It is because Obama is bashing business, not addressing our fiscal woes, threatening to raise taxes and imposing Obamacare that businesses are hesitant to hire and investors are sitting on the sidelines. That may seem obvious to him, but it is not to the average American. Moreover, it is central to his argument that we can’t leave Obama in place because his “cure” is actually what is ailing us.
It is early in the campaign and Romney has time to complete his message. But sooner or later he’s going to have to get down to brass tacks: Why is Obama bad for the economy and what exactly will Romney do differently?