By Ben Cohen: The Mitt Romney campaign team will attempt to make the economy the key focus of the 2012 election because that is where they believe Obama is weakest. The economy isn't in great shape and the future looks even more uncertain. Romney has a stellar record as a business man (he made millions with his company Bain Capital) and Americans generally tend to respect self made men who turn their talents to politics.
So far, the Republican party has attacked Obama relentlessly on his economic platform claiming he is a radical socialist bent on turning the United States into 1950's USSR, this despite the President passing an $858 billion tax cut in 2010, extending the Bush tax cuts for another two years, enacting an almost identical health care plan to Mitt Romney's, and recently passing the JOBS Act that serves to massively deregulate the venture capital funding process.
The assaults on his economic record have been laughably false - Obama has been extremely conservative and would by any other standards be regarded as a Republican.
It does appear that Obama has been learning from his mistakes though - he is adopting a Keynesian approach to economics for his 2012 re-election bid, and has been urging Europe to stop the clearly redundant austerity measures that are ruining the Euro Zone. In the past, Obama has adopted the center ground in order to appease Republicans, then found himself negotiated further and further to the Right. He is changing tactics as the economy splutters and the realization that centrist and Right wing economic policies are severely harming the country.
Obama has made Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital a feature piece of his attack strategy, betting that Americans will take his side when it comes to the economic vision for the country. Writes Joe Klein in support of Obama's re-election campaign theme:
Private equity capitalism was all about short-term profits–maximizing shareholder value–rather than long-term growth. It ushered in an era of massive executive compensation and bonuses. It prospered because of tax rules that made debt more profitable than equity, and a “carried interest” tax dodge that enabled Mitt Romney to pay a lower percentage in taxes than your average construction worker. It can be a useful tool in restructuring companies and steering them toward profitability, but it is not the sort of model you’d want to apply to the entire American economy.
A President has to be about long-term growth, not short-term profits–and to the extent that Barack Obama is using the Bain ads to make this larger argument, he is not “stumbling” or attacking “free enterprise,” but he is steering the conversation toward the most important topic this year: what sort of economy do we want to have and how do we get there?
After 30 years of being told that 'greed is good', it is time for another narrative to take its place in American culture. Mitt Romney represents Reaganomics, the cultural meme that has infected society from the top downwards and instilled the notion that anyone who makes money is good, and anyone who doesn't is not. In 2012, the dynamic is shifting as the Americans begin to understand that the system is rigged and designed only to benefit the rich. Obama must capture this mood change and promote another vision based on fairness and transparency. To do this, he must relentlessly focus on the damage done by companies like Bain Capital, and argue that wealthy business men may be great a making money for themselves, but not for the country as a whole. Writes Andrew Sullivan:
The point is that a president cannot just maximize profts for shareholders. Being a CEO is not the same as being a president. Moreover, even if you think that Romney's highly profitable adventures in private equity helped the economy more than hurt it, the rigged system in which he paid lower taxes, exploited other loopholes and made money regardless of the outcome in any specific case is not a pretty picture of real market capitalism. The relevant analogy in this election is not Romney's time at Bain in terms of his ability to increase employment. It's his record in Massachusetts as governor - during which time, the state came in 47th out of 50 in terms of job growth.
Mitt Romney is aiming to run for President on his record as a wealthy business man. President Obama must make him run on his record as Governor, and to do that, expose the myth that a market free for all is good for everyone. Bain Capital made Romney a millionaire, but he fired thousands of people and ruined lives in the process. He aims to bring his business philosophy to the White House, and only exposing the reality behind it can stop him.