It was silly for the administration to attempt this feeble historical revisionism. Voters will not easily be persuaded that Democrats are not the party of big government and increased spending. Obama was better off characterizing his huge expansions of government as essential "investments." That was open to refutation as well, of course, but at least it wasn't a lie.
There's a lesson here for Mitt Romney, too. If voters are quite certain that Democrats are the party of big government and big spending, they are also inclined to think that Republicans are the party of the rich. Sixty percent of those responding to a Pew Research poll agreed that Republican policies "favor the rich." A Gallup survey in 2011 found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are "worried that the Republican plan for reducing the budget deficit" will "protect the rich at the expense of everyone else."
It isn't so much Mitt Romney's personal wealth that presents a problem. Americans have not been notable for punishing wealthy aspirants to high office. It's even possible that Romney's success may be interpreted positively in a time of economic anxiety, if people conclude that a little "turnaround" action is just what our ailing economy needs.
But the lingering doubts about Republican motives may dog Romney, which is why it is so crucial for him to frame the coming debate in a larger context than simply "vote for the business guy who knows how an economy works." The risk is that too many voters may conclude that it will "work" only for those at the top.
Romney has said privately and publicly that he believes 2012 to be a "hinge" election -- a crucial turning point that will decide whether we follow Europe into economic sclerosis and declining standards of living or whether we revitalize our once vibrant and thriving private sector by cutting government down to size. He should say it more often and more prominently. Here it is on a bumper sticker: If you want a paycheck, vote Romney. If you want an unemployment check, vote Obama.