Why me? Why now? Those are the questions Mitt Romney must answer if he wants to be the next president of the United States. He will have an excellent opportunity to do so during the presidential debates, which could prove pivotal. Though still tight, the race has shifted slightly in favor of President Obama in recent weeks, as echoes of his inglorious “You didn’t build that” have been drowned out by Romney’s dismissal of the supposedly unreachable 47 percent.
“Why now?” is easy for Romney. The United States has piled up $16 trillion in national debt. We can no longer rely on increasing government spending to boost the economy. Instead, we must now engage the private sector – something that Obama is ill-equipped to do, but that is second nature to Romney.
Americans rank our national debt and ongoing deficits among their top concerns. The plundering of the federal purse by both Presidents Bush and Obama as they battled the financial crisis enraged a good part of the electorate, who marched to the polls in 2010 and recruited Republicans to stop the flow. The unimaginable downgrade of our debt and four years of trillion-dollar deficits make this a scab that Romney can pick.
A high debt level is not a theoretical issue; it puts President Obama and his Keynesian camp in a bind. Though liberal economists will argue otherwise, many worry that further weakening our balance sheet could lead to declining confidence, a weaker dollar, higher interest rates and rising inflation, undoing the Herculean efforts of the Federal Reserve.
If fiscal measures are limited, and monetary policy already loose, the government has nothing left in its economic toolbox. And yet, we must stimulate growth to create jobs. Continuing high unemployment is President Obama’s Achilles heel. The president argues that he inherited a terrible mess-- which he did – and that Republicans have blocked his efforts to gin up jobs through more stimulus.
It would be useful for Romney to remind voters that President Obama’s party controlled both houses of Congress during his first two years in office, and that he spent that advantage passing Obamacare. Far from creating jobs, the unpopular healthcare measure created uncertainty and alarm about new fees and taxes, choking off investment and hiring by many companies. This is not a right-wing fantasy; one survey after another has revealed that his legacy quest paralyzed businesses early in the recovery.
Not until the fall of 2011 – and in response to immense criticism -- did Obama turn to creating jobs. His recipe featured more spending of the sort embodied in the $800 billion stimulus program, an approach that rising deficits rendered as appealing as week-old shrimp. As the country reeled from the downgrading of our debt, it became clear that we had reached a turning point. We needed private sector spending, not public sector stimulus. We needed a president who could inspire the business community to take over as the engine of growth, and to create jobs.
This answers the “Why me?” question. Romney can work with the business community to create the kinds of incentives and certainty that will restore confidence and boost spending. Obama cannot. Corporate America – and small businesses too -- have long decided that the Obama White House is not friendly turf.
The president has brought this on himself, by encouraging ramped-up regulation and by blasting one industry after another – insurers, banks, coal companies, oil producers, drug suppliers, aircraft manufacturers, credit card providers, medical supply outfits, for profit education firms – suggesting they don’t play by the rules, that they are ruthless outsourcers and that they cheat on taxes. This is not a partnership Obama embraces.
Romney is on solid ground here. The public may distrust Big Business, but they understand that the government cannot provide jobs for the 24 million Americans that are unemployed or underemployed. They also know that the president disdains the private sector. It is common knowledge, but Romney should remind voters, that this administration includes fewer representatives of the business community than any in our history.
No wonder--Obama has never worked in business. He has not created a single job or a dollar of profit. When he says “You didn’t build that,” the “you” is a stranger to the president. He has no idea what grit and guts it takes to start up a business and see it to fruition.
It is time for Romney to talk about his tenure at Bain Capital. He has allowed the Obama camp to demean and distort his outstanding career. Imagine, an extremely successful American – by all accounts a man of decency and integrity--being taunted about having amassed a fortune. Such derision runs contrary to the very ethos of this country.
Romney should demystify his time at Bain. He should tell us how he grew the company, describe some of the decisions he made and risks he took, and transform his boldface career into something familiar to voters. He needs to explain how his success at Bain, and at turning around the Olympics, proves he has the skills to reboot our country. This is his time. In another era, his business bona fides might not count for as much. Today, they are essential.