The news cycles move with such rapidity it seems that it was months ago that Mitt Romney was debunking the “outsourcing” claim. And already, despite the frantic flurry of left-wing bloggers and the Obama team to keep it alive, the issue of releasing his tax returns is sliding from the headlines. (How many more days can the Obama team and its spinners flog the same “he won’t release more than two years of tax returns”? We’ll find out, but certainly a fraction of the days of horror stories concocts from more years of returns.)

Romney was smart to see that releasing more data would only fuel the fire and that the way to move on was to seize the initiative. He’s done that to a degree even his most skeptical conservative critics didn’t think possible. He was in Ohio yesterday:

Romney has found his opening and is going to bludgeon President Obama with the president’s own words (that aren’t limited to the single speech, as I have pointed out, and are entirely consistent with his record in office). The left is at a loss even to understand why Obama’s words are so damning, much less to defend the president.

Meanwhile, Romney, for the first time perhaps, is speaking with conviction and with deep emotion. His ability to make common cause with other “job creators” makes a mockery of the notion that he is out of touch with voters. Now it’s small-business owners and upwardly mobile Americans (who isn’t?) vs. Obama’s collectivist vision.

The argument is the most fundamental and important issue of the election: What kind of country do we want? Romney is making the case for a reformed, sleeker government that lays the groundwork for success in the private sector. Obama, he’s told us, wants a “new foundation” where people get it out of their heads that government should be limited.

Romney also has inspired some helpful rhetoric from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose remarks yesterday included this:

Yesterday, a non-partisan study from Ernst & Young showed that the President’s proposed tax hike would cost our economy 700,000 jobs. Why are they pushing this tax [increase]? I think that the President explained that himself yesterday. He doesn’t believe that small businesses create jobs, he thinks government creates jobs. Listen, I was a small business guy. I worked hard, I took a hell of a lot of risk and I was successful. And it sure wasn’t the government there to help my small business. I am the one that had the sleepless nights. I am the one who went out on a limb to hire people and when I had to meet that payroll, it was my obligation, not only to take care of those people who worked for me, but to take care of those families of those people who worked for me. And I think the President’s attack on the private sector in America is exactly what’s wrong with this administration.

Ironically, Romney isn’t as ideologically far from Obama, as say, a Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.) or Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) He wants to reform Social Security, not privatize it. He wants a flatter, simpler tax code, not a flat tax.

What was a handicap in the primary — insufficient bellicosity — is now a strength. Romney isn’t arguing to rip up the New Deal, but he is drawing the line at the “you didn’t build that” philosophy. That’s a saving grace with independent, less ideological voters.

But the real advantage he has in the general election is his opponent. His revelation will help to frame the issue as about both ideology (without forcing Romney to the extreme right) and competency (his collectivist belief requires him to push for counterproductive policies). In short, Romney has staked claim to the center-right. And Obama helped him do it.

The Romney team is now explicitly making the case that it’s no wonder this is the weakest recovery ever — we’ve got a president who doesn’t understand wealth creation and is devoted to a much bigger role for government than American have come to expect.

Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute puts it well:

Obama’s political/ideological outlook, a leftist radicalism obscured in 2008 by the hope-and-change buncombe, has forced Romney to become the champion of traditional American individualism and liberty. My hunch is that this ideological divide will become clearer as the campaign evolves; and that (1) the choice of a running mate (Paul Ryan) who would sharpen that distinction, (2) the delivery of a convention speech highlighting it and its implications, and (3) a debate performance that does the same, will yield in October the same movement in the electorate that we observed in October 1980.

Well, it’s way too early to say that we’re in 1980. But it does remind us vividly why Obama is frantic to keep the discussion away from his own record and views. If the economy had improved to a greater extent or if Obama could convincingly maintain the pose of a moderate, it would be a different matter.

Finally, if you think, aside from our immediate economic slump, the biggest challenge we face is our fiscal future you should consider if a president as enamored of statism as this one is the guy to do it. The “grand bargain” requires challenging your own side and recognizing that government, debt and taxes can’t go up for ever. That’s not Obama, for sure.