"Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy -- where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending."
-- President-elect Barack Obama in a Jan. 9, 2009 speech outlining his economic strategy at George Mason University.
When President Obama heads to Florida for a campaign swing today, you can’t bet he won’t be repeating his stump speech line from last week about the collective creation of successful businesses.
“You didn’t build that,” is so far the biggest gaffe of the general election season. It has become a shillelagh with which soon-to-be Republican nominee Mitt Romney can beat back Obama’s attacks on the former CEOs wealth, tax rates and business record.
Obama wasn’t saying anything in his Virginia campaign speech on Friday that he hasn’t said dozens of times before; he just said it especially poorly.
As a candidate and as president, Obama has often lamented the move toward privatization and reduction of government involvement in the economy in the Reagan, Clinton and Bush years. He believes that the economy and socioeconomic stratification are worse because America turned away from a 50-year trend of having government direct and support economic activity.
In his Virginia speech, Obama meant that business owners didn’t build the infrastructure that allow them to succeed – the roads that carry customers to their doors, the police and fire departments that protect them, the schools that educate their workers, etc. Obama would certainly allow that businessmen and businesswomen build their individual enterprises, but he believes that their successes would not be possible if it were not for government.
He was selling that in his push for his two stimuli during the days of Democratic control of Washington, in his push for a new health-insurance entitlement and in his constant battles with House Republicans for more stimulus spending since Democrats got wiped out in 2010.
The president’s message, as befits a former community organizer, has always been that none of us do what we do alone, but that collective action as directed by government allows us to succeed.
Romney’s rebuttal is that infrastructure and public services are great, but that’s what we pay taxes for. Romney’ point is that commerce creates wealth which provides the resources that pay for basic services and, as the Founders would have said, “improvements” that, in turn, facilitate greater commerce. The government here is not a partner or a director, but a provider of basic necessities.
Romney’s view lines up better with the electorate. As the latest FOX News Poll shows, voters believe by an almost three-to-one margin that government is the problem with the economy rather than the solution. And 55 percent said that they thought Obama was making government bigger and more expensive. Only 10 percent thought he was making it smaller.
A Quinnipiac Poll of Virginia voters out today that was in the field before, during and after Obama Obama’s gaffe in the commonwealth shows Obama having surrendered his lead there. Obama led in the Old Dominion by 8 points in March and 5 points in June, now it’s dead even at 44 percent apiece.
Whatever the causes of Obama’s 6-point Virginia drop since March, “you didn’t build that” certainly couldn’t have helped.
Obama left himself vulnerable to the current Romney attacks not only with his long crusade for a more interventionist government, but also in four months of withering attacks on Romney’s business record and personal life. One of the reasons moderate Democrats squirmed when Obama began his character attacks on Romney in the spring was that they feared their party would be seen as anti-capitalist and anti-success.
Obama has been trying to re-educate the electorate about what he says is the proper relationship between individual liberty and government intervention, a relationship he believes has been put out of whack by wealthy people who have exploited the basic American individualistic impulse to plunder the poor and middle class. He has wanted to transform public opinion rather than work within its constraints.
That’s a tough pull in a nation that still keeps rugged individualism as a sacred tenet. The FOX poll certainly suggests that Obama has failed in his effort to get voters to view government differently. Add in an intensely negative campaign centered on the wealth of one’s opponent, and you have a recipe for trouble. “You didn’t build that,” just gave Republicans a new opportunity to exploit the existing conditions.
In Florida, the president will want to tout his interventions in the economy on foreclosure and subsidies for local government payrolls, but with his gaffe still hanging and voters still so distrustful of the government, he will need to tread as lightly as a dressage horse when he talks about the role of Washington in their lives.
Jobless claims shot up last week, reaffirming again that the economy is faltering. The president would be hard pressed to convince Florida swing voters that the problem was not enough government.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think what Romney ought to do is take the headline in [Wednesday’s] lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, ‘Solyndra Versus Staples.’ And he has to have a simple slogan, which is Obama and his administration gave you Solyndra using your money, incidentally. I and my colleagues in the free enterprise system gave you Staples with all the jobs and all the wealth and all the accrued wealth it gave to the foundations to the pensions and the universities that invested with us in those enterprises.”
-- 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.