Presidential campaigns often reduce themselves to words or phrases, slogans or gaffes.
These fragments actually represent much more than the specific words employed, but very often condense enormous themes, important differences or character issues into a compact but complete message package. Five examples of years defined by a few words:
1976: Poland is free. (President Gerald Ford actually said in his famous debate gaffe "There is no Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe.")
1980: "Are you better off today..." Misery Index and "There you go again."
1992: "It's the economy stupid."
2000: Compassionate conservatism
2008: Hope and change
The message set developing for 2012 does not favor the president. Here's a word, or two or three, which conveys much about the state of the country and the quality of the president's leadership:
Debt and deficit
Price of gas
The Gulf oil spill
Fast and Furious
Netanyahu in the basement
When Governor Romney says just those words, or even one of them, the audience will instantly know what he is intending them to think through. Each of these words or phrases conveys a long tale of incompetence, combining into a fiasco of a presidency for which no cure is at hand, and which cannot be defended.
So the president is attacking, trying to fashion new messages to gin up his troops.
Appeals about 'the 1%," the "Buffett Rule," Bain and silver spoons, and of course "Bin Laden" will fill every presidential speech between now.
But it won't work because the reality of the president's three-plus years is everywhere around us, easily communicated and impossible to deny.
Imagine the captain of the Titanic as the ship shudders and begins to sink complaining about the seamanship of the rescue boat pilots.
There you have President Obama as Campaign 2012 gets underway.