“They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.”
-- Ronald Reagan in his Oct. 27, 1964 televised speech, “A Time for Choosing” on behalf of then-Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Americans have lost confidence in their government and its institutions and are pessimistic about the direction of our country. Voters are grouchy, distrustful of incumbents and convinced that the nation’s economy is either stagnating or declining.
This should be a toxic atmosphere for any incumbent, and yet President Obama continues to hold a narrow lead over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. This prompts the question asked daily on the political right: “Why?”
The answer usually tends to be that Romney is making tactical or communications errors by the Republican and his team. If he had only said this about Medicare or that about Libya. If he would just talk about tax policy thusly.
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But that is mostly flummery. Yes, Romney’s effort sometimes seems to be a rapid response effort in search of a campaign and yes, his tendency toward equivocal answers makes him an easier target for the press and for Democrats.
But given the national circumstances – massive unemployment, jaw-dropping debt and utter dysfunction in Washington – those things shouldn’t be enough to win Obama a second term.
Rather than the ongoing molecular-level examination of Romney with which Republicans and their media antagonists are currently obsessed, it might serve the gloomy souls on the red team better to ask what Obama is doing right.
The Obama Democrats often accuse Romney and the Republicans of being too pessimistic, of talking down the country in order to get elected. In fact, the president and his team have even accused Republicans in Congress of deliberately hurting the economy in order to defeat the president. Talk about questioning your opponent’s patriotism.
But at the same time, Obama himself acknowledges the depth of the hole in which the country is stuck. The president, who once said that failure to lead the nation out of the economic wilderness would make his administration a “one-term proposition” has come to embrace the idea that the nation’s problems cannot be solved in just one term.
"The truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over a decade," Obama said in his speech to the Democratic National Convention.
While Republicans mock and deride the president for “moving the goalposts” and blaming his predecessors, Obama is on to something here.
It was almost exactly four years ago today that Lehman Brothers imploded, setting off the financial panic that would shake the country to its core and launch Obama into the White House. He won then promising hope for the future and change in the way Washington works and, most importantly, by seeming steady and sober sided at a time when his opponent did not.
The years that followed proved disappointing and frustrating for the country and Obama oftentimes seemed in over his head. But rather than trying to paper over the problems, Obama has embraced them of evidence of what he says are deep, systemic problems with the country and its government.
Like a car mechanic who promises a quick tune up is all that’s needed but returns after a look under the hood to say that the transmission is shot, Obama is telling Americans that it’s worse than they thought and will take longer and be more expensive to fix than originally estimated.
He contrasts this with what he says are simplistic, shallow answers from Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan. Obama, who ran as a blank slate onto which voters could project their own dreams and desires, is now running as the gritty pragmatist facing the policy lightweight.
"The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place," Obama said in Charlotte. While Republicans are offering a quick fix, Obama says he is offering change with substance and permanence for a country with deep, deep problems.
Romney and Ryan are serious people and are no doubt sensitive to this generations-old line of attack against conservatives and Republicans. Democrats style themselves as sophisticated, nuanced and realistic while Republicans are simplistic simpletons.
Obama has revived the attack with a 2012 pessimism update. Things are so bad, he says, that this is no time for simple answers. These are dark and difficult times in which large, complicated solutions are required. This is a view that most in the political press share and the question is always coming back to Romney and Ryan about their policy details and whether it’s reasonable to forecast an actual turnaround.
Voters have been convinced that the smart money is on gloom and decline through long years of economic suffering, decades of a government that doesn’t work and now, a reminder of the nation’s diminished stature in the world as they see our flag burning in Cairo and our diplomats murdered.
Obama has tapped into that gloom and put Romney on the defensive. As much as the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to seem serious and realistic, it may be time to start embracing Obama’s accusations.
Promises of quick fixes may earn scorn in the establishment press, but voters who are weary of the grim new normal of American life might glom on to the idea.
It’s time for Romney to answer Bill Clinton’s claim that no president could have turned the country around in four years after the Panic of 2008. Romney should say that he would have and that in the four years to come he’ll turn the country around.
As much as the Republicans fear the derision of the press and attacks of the left, it’s time for Romney to reject the idea that the national pessimism of the Obama era is warranted. He’s trying to sound sympathetic and realistic, but ends up playing on Obama’s turf.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“What we're seeing now is Al Qaeda developing in Libya, a meltdown of our relations with Egypt. You have riots in Yemen, attacks on our embassy in Tunisia. This entire premise that we want to be loved and respected and we'll apologize has now yielded all of these results, and these are the fruits of apology and retreat and lack of confidence in our own principles.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.