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Memo to Team Obama and voters -- Big Bird, binders and bayonets are not big issues

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Oct. 20, 2012: Vice President Joe Biden holds up a binder while remarking on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's recent debate gaffe during a visit to Ketterlinus Gymnasium in St. Augustine, Fla. (AP/The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

The Obama campaign’s post-debate strategy has focused three times on highlighting inane non-issues. 

In the first presidential debate, Gov. Mitt Romney stated that every dollar of government spending should be measured by whether “the program is so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.” In illustrating that cuts to the deficit are necessary to preserve the economy and jobs, Romney used public broadcasting as an expenditure that is not worth borrowing money to fund. Instead of responding to the tough economic issues of the debate, the Obama campaign responded with television ads mocking the cuts to Big Bird.

At the second presidential debate, in response to a woman’s question about gender pay equality, Romney noted that his efforts to hire qualified senior-level women resulted in him reviewing “binders full of women.” The Obama team went into spin mode to ridicule the Governor’s choice of words and tie them into a non-existent “war on women.” By Thursday, several major newspapers had front-page stories on the candidates and women issues as a result.

Never mind that even CNN acknowledged that Romney hired huge numbers of senior-level women and has a history of promoting women as executives. His lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, Kerry Healey, said that of the top 20 positions in his cabinet, 10 were filled by women, including the chief of staff.

Finally, during Monday’s foreign-policy debate, following Romney’s comments that the Navy has fewer ships today than at any time since 1917, Obama produced his ready-made one-line retort: “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Afterward, the media declared it was the line that will “live forever.” The Obama campaign meanwhile bought the search term “bayonets” on Twitter.

All the debates are examples of how the Obama camp capitalizes on the small issues to defer attention away from big problems, like the economy, deficit and entitlement spending. Obama was recently on the campaign trail in the battleground state of Iowa where he said, “We don’t have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women.” While the media responded to the Obama redirect strategy of focusing on Big Bird, binders, and bayonets the issue of the budget and jobs moved off the front page.

This may play well for Romney, considering that a recent battleground poll revealed that more than two-thirds of Americans name pocketbook issues like the economy and jobs as their top concerns. 

After the Hofstra debate, polls found that Romney beat Obama on the issue of who can better handle the economy, 58 percent to 40 percent. While the Obama administration continues its barrage of attack ads on Romney’s wealth, involvement with Bain, and shipping jobs overseas, they are losing ground with voters who want to hear about policies that can get the economy going again. As Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan said recently, since Obama can’t run on his record, he’s running on division, distraction and distortion.

In the debates, Romney capitalized on the enthusiasm gap for Obama’s economic policies by offering a five-point plan that would create 12 million new jobs. Romney positioned himself as the man with the plan, offering solutions for the middle class, and highlighted Obama’s record by citing stats of the mounting federal debt, the decline in household incomes, a growing entitlement state, and soaring gas prices just to name a few.

As the election nears, these are the policy topics voters should be debating and sharing with each other, not colorful memes and rhetoric about Big Bird, binders, or bayonets. Whether President Obama’s reelection strategy of diverging from four years of hostility to job creators is successful remains to be seen. But the next generation deserves a serious discussion of serious issues rather than political efforts to trivialize them.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. His latest book is "Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses," (William Morrow, January 2013). He is also author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” Contact him on Twitter at @GaryShapiro.

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