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    « U.S. Foreign Policy: Be Careful What You Wish For... | Main | Keynes, Hayek and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Economy »

    Romney’s Sounds of Silence: Anatomy of a Failing Strategy


    People talking without speaking
    People hearing without listening
    People writing songs that voices never share
    And no one dared
    Disturb the sound of silence

    --Paul Simon


    Not long after the convention season had ended, The Daily Show aired an amusing segment contrasting the specificity of the key Democratic speeches (“What's the jobs score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42 million!”) to the rhetorical emptiness of the opposition (“We will not duck the tough issues – we will lead.”)  At first I thought this simply another case of one party waving a few withered laurels in response to another party with a dearth of ideas, but I’m not so sure now.  I’m thinking that this has been the Republican strategy all along: say nothing, but say it with eloquence.

    It’s not all that insane, really, when you think about it.  After all, the economy is still deep in the well, and even though we seem to be climbing up the sides like some Japanese horror ghoul reaching for sunlight, it’s unclear how long it may take us to get there, or even whether or not we might slip on some slick mossy patch and find ourselves again hurtling downward.  In such an environment, it’s easy to imagine a back-room GOP strategy session going something like this:

    “The job numbers still suck, and wages are down again. Couldn’t be better news for us.”

    “True.  Maybe we should just sit back and do nothing. We don’t have to win this thing if Obama loses it.”

    “Not a bad idea…it could work….  But we’ve still got speeches and debates to deal with.  And that Stephanopoulos guy might ask a tough question or two.”

    “Not a problem.  We’ll say things about leadership and leading and being a leader.  Stuff like that.  He’s good at that.”

    “Right.  That’s it then.  Our strategy is no strategy.  Perfect.”

    It seemed to work for a while.  Month after month of economic anemia kept the polls pretty close, and social issues in swing states were giving Romney a leg up in some spots.  But what the Republicans forgot is that real things continually happen out here in the real world, and Romney—as the challenger—is expected to comment on them coherently, as if he might soon have to face such events himself.  As we get closer to November—closer to considering a possible President Romney—Mitt no longer has the luxury of just telling us what the President shouldn’t be doing; he’s now being asked what he would do if he were sitting in the round room’s chair.  The public, much to the GOP's chagrin, is now robustly realizing that Romney doesn’t have any answers.

    Platitudes may work well for the already-convinced, but the still-undecideds would like something on which to, well, decide.  From a policy point of view, Romney simply isn’t providing anything. Foreign policy? Ummm…don’t let Iran get nukes.  Health Care? Well…repeal Obamacare but keep the parts of it that people want, whatever those are. Abortion? Gee…pro-life except for the exceptions which he’d prefer not to say out loud anymore, if that’s all right with you. Fiscal policy? No worries…Christmas for everybody, and damn the mathematics!

    Meanwhile, the polls show the race slipping away from him, not just in the all-important battleground states (where Obama now leads in every state but one), but in key issues such as who we think would do a better job with the economy (where there’s now a statistical dead heat of 47% Obama to 45% Romney) and in the favorability ratings (51% Obama to 44% Romney). It seems that people just flat out like and trust Obama more than Romney and, at this point—with the final countdown to November underway—Romney finds himself on the outs with the American public and getting further out every day.

    It’s time for some detail, Mitt. It’s time to stand up and tell us what you really plan to do. It’s time, ironically, for you to stop blaming the President you want to replace and to start telling us how we’ll be better off four years from now rather than how we’re worse off than we were four years ago.

    I, personally, would like to know what a new health care program would look like. 

    I, personally, would like to know under exactly what conditions you would be willing to start a war with Iran.

    I, personally, would like to know what tax loopholes you plan to close.

    I, personally, would like to know the kinds of senior programs you plan to enact.

    I, personally, would like to know how you will reach across the aisle in order to actually get things done.

    And I’m betting I’m not the only one who would like to know these things.

    I know you may not be all that fond of science (or, at least, you pretend you’re not), but at this point in your campaign it’s worth recalling Newton’s laws of motion.  Bodies at rest, you see, tend to stay at rest. Put in political terms, that generally means that we’ll stick with what we’ve got if we don’t have a good reason to change.  On the other hand, bodies tend to accelerate when met with direct force.  The direct force, in this case, would be a few solid, detailed ideas.  If you actually start to share some with us, then maybe enough votes will accelerate in your direction. 

    Your silence isn’t working.  Things are getting a little bit better out here in the real world and, even though they’re still pretty awful, it’s just enough better to settle us down, give us the tiniest sense of optimism, and encourage us to stick with the inertia we know. If you don’t give us a reason to change, we won’t.

    Ideas, Mitt.  We need to hear them.


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