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Mitt Romney is a good man. He’s smart, successful and there’s not a hint of scandal in his 65 years. He’s boring and a little distant, but those aren’t the flaws that could prove fatal.
Romney’s big problem is that he grew up in another America. He was raised to believe there is a clear standard for adult conduct, that even politics has rules and that it is the duty of a president to unite and lead the nation through its economic crisis.
Timing could be his great misfortune. Fate has given him a demoralized electorate that is growing distant from that old America and an opponent who spouts its verities, but actually believes in none of them.
Barack Obama believes that politics is a knife fight, and the only rule is that he must win. His conduct reflects the unholy mix of a messiah complex with the muscle of The Chicago Way. His goal, he tells us, is to “transform” America, not fix it.
This culture clash explains a presidential campaign operating in parallel universes. Romney is making a broad pitch to the nation as a whole, assuming jobs, the debt, deficit and a strong military are what people care about because they should.
Obama knows that’s no longer true for a big slice of the country. He gives lip service to those issues, but they concern him only to the extent they could be his undoing. His aim is to buy four more years by using the power of incumbency to distribute goodies that will insulate his supporters from immediate pain. In exchange, they’ll give him time to turn the nation into a European welfare state, with an imperial president uber alles.
Obama’s not making a national appeal. He’s micro-targeting groups already supporting him, hoping to drive up their numbers to offset the loss of voters for whom the economy and related fiscal issues matter most.
For him, 8.2 percent unemployment is something to work around, not worry about. It is a distraction to be paved over with side deals for friends, bailouts and trade barriers for unions, a pass on immigration laws for Latinos, subsidized loans for students, huge handouts for green-energy zealots and unleashed regulatory cops to “crucify” producers of fossil fuel. He even leaks national security secrets to boost his warrior cred.
The whole jobs thing is passé because work is optional when unemployment and disability benefits are the new welfare and an increase in food stamps is proof of “fairness.” With only half the country paying taxes, the other half isn’t worried about spending. For their government masters, dependency is good.
Women are patronized with a claim that Republicans are waging “war” on them, even though the Obama economy has done them no favors. Black Americans also get nothing special. Because 95 percent will support Obama no matter what, he doesn’t bother buying their votes. He is their only reward.
Our president is a deeply cynical man, but the more disturbing fact is that his cynicism has freed him from responsibility, and that freedom is proving to be a campaign advantage. The rising star who once claimed to see not a red or blue America but a united one has shed that pose for a message tailored to a country he helped polarize.
Give the devil his due: Obama is a first-rate campaigner, approaching it with a passion he lacks for the Oval Office. His team has sliced and diced the country into ethnic, racial and class pieces, and he follows their road map and revs up the rhetoric on cue.
His bus tour in Ohio was a priceless piece of pandering. In a town tied to auto manufacturing, he could tout his bailout of Detroit and suppliers and announce that he had filed a trade claim against China over its tariffs on American cars.
And so it goes, one special-interest cookie at a time. There’s no pretense of eliminating the deficit or paying down the debt. Entitlement reform is for chumps.
So are growth and job creation because they would require different polices, ones that would get in the way of remaking America into something his wife can be proud of every day.
Against this ruthless juggernaut, Mitt Romney stands like a statue in a snowstorm. Given the state of the world and the incumbent’s record, he should be writing his inauguration speech. But that America is fading. Unless Romney digs deep and finds a new passion for the fight, he’ll need a ticket for the events of Jan. 20, 2013.
To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column in the New York Post on other topics, including Yasir Arafat, click here.