Barack Obama does not want this election to be about Barack Obama.
If it is a referendum on him, Obama knows that he loses. Instead, he needs to make it a “choice” election between him, the guy who will take the country forward, and Mitt Romney, the businessman who will leave the poor behind.
That’s why Obama and his team are waging a brutal character war against Romney. So far, they have suggested Romney committed at least one felony, evaded income taxes for years and single-handedly caused a woman’s death through a layoff ordered by Romney’s venture-capital firm.
The blatantly false “death ad” was aired last week by an Obama-supporting political action committee run by his former deputy press secretary. The White House denied any knowledge of Joe Soptic, the man in the ad who accuses Romney of causing his wife’s death.
The problem with the White House denial is that, a few weeks earlier, Soptic was the centerpiece of one of Obama’s own campaign conference calls.
In addition, Romney had been gone from Bain Capital for six years and had nearly completed his term as Massachusetts governor when Soptic’s wife died. And she had her own health insurance for years after her husband’s layoff.
Although everything in the ad has been proven to be a flat-out lie, Obama has not disavowed it.
And for Obama, that’s OK. The bright-eyed candidate who once promised a better way in politics has coarsened.
He is delighted when the press focuses on whatever bright, shiny object is thrown out for it to chase, because that beats his reality — the economy sagging despite bailouts, stimulus infusions, cash for clunkers, cash for first-time homebuyers, a “summer of recovery” and a health-care act that was supposed to improve the country’s economic condition.
Distorting the truth, then gingerly walking around it, is a much better exercise for the president than having daily news reports on the economy.
There is no disputing the facts: The labor market is struggling, manufacturing is down for the second month in a row and job growth is sickly, resulting in unemployment climbing to 8.3 percent. In addition, rising grocery prices because of this summer’s drought are likely to result in consumers spending much less and in companies hiring far fewer workers.
You might be tempted to argue that the recession was better than the recovery under Obama — something he does not want to be judged on. So his class-warfare campaign continues.
The argument that Romney must make, from the Republicans’ convention, through his campaign-trail stump speeches and the presidential debates, is that this country should evaluate the president on his economic record.
Politics can be confusing because it often resembles an argument about what the argument is about, according to Baylor University political science professor Curt Nichols, “which is exactly what the president is trying to create.”
Americans usually judge presidents based on policy success — but sometimes can be persuaded to vote based on what priorities a president champions.
Obama, however, faces a predicament because he is championing the dismantling of an American businessman and class warfare, not his own priorities.
It is difficult to judge how Americans really feel about the president’s record so far. Most polling shows a flat-out tie between the two candidates, although Gallup picked up an Obama-voter exodus last week.
Gallup’s survey showed 9 percent of 2008 Obama voters have switched to supporting Romney this year, an above-average shift in vote choice. Political independents (18 percent), moderates (16 percent), Eastern residents (15 percent), those with a high school education or less (15 percent) and unmarried men (15 percent) made up that demographic shift.
Still, the race is close and will remain close. The only thing that could break it wide-open for Romney is if he can effectively make the case that the 2012 election should be a referendum on Barack Obama.
“If Romney pulls that off, and he is completely capable of doing that, this race goes from close to landslide,” says one respected Pennsylvania Democrat, a former elected official who also admits he is glad to “not be part of the game” this year.