“The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do. He does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can. He can’t.”The simple brilliance of that statement is not merely that it is an indictment of Obama’s limited capabilities. It is actually an encapsulation of the liberal argument versus the conservative one, a powerful insight into why this campaign appears to be so close, and a key to successful messaging for Romney’s campaign.
Liberals want to turn every campaign, every debate, every issue (and every newscast) into a battle about feelings and intentions: “We care about the children.” “We love women.” “We want to alleviate poverty.”
There are two reasons why this tactic is absolutely essential for liberals.
First, it enables them to distract the public’s attention away from the fact that in instance after instance, liberal policies have failed. More education spending hasn’t helped improve student outcomes. Adding people to the welfare rolls only creates dependency, while imposing a work requirement (which Obama just gutted) actually reduces the numbers of people on welfare and moves them to gainful employment. And the events of the last two weeks have certainly shown that bowing to dictators and apologizing to extremists hasn’t transformed their attitudes toward America.
The issue, in most cases, is not what liberals want. We all want clean air and water, good schools, strong families, healthy food, thriving cities, and a robust national defense. But liberals refuse to discuss whether what they want to do in pursuit of those aims, works. By focusing on their intentions, they manage to insulate themselves from any and all criticism, even about the results of their policies.
Results don’t matter, they argue in essence, because we care so much.
But there is another, more insidious aspect to this strategy. By focusing the electorate’s attention on feelings, intentions, or state of mind, they emphasize something that can never be proven – only alleged. And if it is easy to give yourself brownie points for happy thoughts, it is even easier to demonize your opponent by accusing him (or her) of having negative thoughts, feelings, intentions, or motivations: “He hates women!” “She is a racist!” “They don’t care if hungry children don’t eat!” “He will throw granny off a cliff.”
Easy to say, impossible to prove.
But apparently it doesn’t need to be proven. Once these specious accusations have been made, the press takes the bait like rabid dogs, and most conservative politicians go immediately on the defensive. Worse, because liberals have taken actions and consequences out of the discussion, it apparently doesn’t matter if a conservative can say, “But my policies actually reduce poverty/illiteracy/hunger/fill in the blank.” (Or, as Mitt Romney recently discovered, to say that he not only paid taxes, but gave very generously to charity without taking the full charitable deduction.)
It is even harder to prove that one’s policies will avert bad consequences in the future – like avoiding the fiscal cliff that the country is headed towards at breakneck speed.
Liberal politicians don’t want to talk about any of this. Nor do they want the voters to think about it. For Obama and his ilk (and, apparently, those who vote for them), results don’t matter. It is all about intentions. So the election gets cast as being about who “cares,” not about who “can.”
This must be frustrating for Mitt Romney, a man who has historically said very little about his feelings; who has always judged himself and others by their actions and the results of those actions.
Romney is clearly flustered by the media’s dogged determination to go along with the Obama administration’s “CareBear” narrative, especially when the president’s own behavior strongly suggests otherwise, and when, in any case, the results of all that “caring” have been so manifestly and irredeemably bad. Romney might believe that all that needs to be done is to draw the public’s attention to these failures. But the press is against him. And he has been blindsided by the constant drumbeat of “care, care, care.”
We got a glimpse of Romney’s frustration in his blunt – but accurate - statement in Atlanta.
The Romney campaign needs to make the debate over facts versus feelings more obvious to the American public. A recent series completed by the Washington Examiner should make that much easier. Entitled, “The Obama you don’t know,” the Washington Examiner does the kind of journalistic investigation that should have been done back in 2007 and 2008, and which only a handful of individuals (like Jerome Corsi, Jack Cashill, Stanley Kurtz, Ed Klein) and organizations (AEI, WND, Breitbart) have bothered to do.
This exposé reveals that the American presidency is not the first job for which Obama has displayed unremarkable abilities and only middling interest. He received poor student evaluations at the University of Chicago, and the faculty there do not remember his being active or participatory. As an Illinois state senator, Obama was notorious for his diffidence, voting “present” over 100 times (often, apparently, for political reasons). As a United States senator, he missed nearly a quarter of the roll call votes. Author Jack Cashill has investigated Obama’s groundbreaking book, “Dreams from my Father,” and the evidence strongly suggests that Obama was unable to produce the book he was contractually obligated to write until Michelle tapped family friend Bill Ayers, who contributed significantly to its authorship.
This is a pattern.
Even now, some of the media are noting that Obama’s schedule as president suggests lack of interest (not to mention transparency) in the day-to-day details which make up the president’s responsibilities, as opposed to campaigning and giving speeches. This was made painfully obvious to the rest of the world after the slaughter of the American ambassador to Libya and three other staffers in Benghazi, when it was revealed that Obama had failed to personally attend large numbers of intelligence briefings in the months prior. On the anniversary of 9/11, he was busy giving an interview with a Miami (“Pimp with a Limp”) DJ. The day Ambassador Christopher Steven’s murder was announced, Obama flew to Vegas for a fundraiser. And in the days that followed, he couldn’t be bothered to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, or other heads of state, but he made time for glitzy fundraisers with stars, an appearance on David Letterman (where he admitted he didn’t know what the national debt was) and “The View.” He himself joked that he watches TV when others think he is working.
Romney wants this election to be about competence, not ideology. Understandable. But insufficient. Because Obama’s ideology is all he has, and that ideology is a formula for catastrophic failure. This is among the reasons why he is so manifestly inadequate to the task, and Romney must drive the point home.
Romney understands that the best proof of compassion is competence. Some of the deeper dives into polling results suggest that Americans are getting this message. Indeed, in Romney’s most recent campaign ads, he is now referencing that Atlanta quote.
For Obama, “caring” is just a slogan, a sleight-of-hand like everything else he has done to deflect attention away from who he really is, what he really feels, and what he really wants for this country. (Frankly, without a teleprompter and throngs of adoring crowds, he is not even that good at pretending that he “cares.”)
For their part, Americans need to demonstrate that they understand the need for a President who “can,” not one whose primary (if not only) qualification for the job is professing to “care.”
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.