Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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October 26, 2012

Losing the future to Romney

President Barack Obama has debated Mitt Romney three times now and has yet to enunciate anything within hailing distance of a second-term agenda.

He wants to "win the future" - he just doesn't have a very clear idea about how to do it. His slogan is "forward," but his campaign is unmistakably backward-looking. His case for re-election has about as much to do with the last four years of the Bush administration as it does the next four years of the prospective second Obama administration.

All of his campaign's energy has been devoted to tearing down Romney. If a fraction of its effort had been spent on developing a few new proposals around which Obama could wrap a fresh-feeling policy platform, he wouldn't be forced to run such a remorselessly negative campaign.

The irony is that Obama aides always said that it would be a choice election. But they have been running as if the election were a referendum on the challenger. The only real choice that the Obama campaign has offered is one between believing Romney is a heartless, right-wing extremist and believing Romney is a soulless opportunist.

This has allowed Romney, pricelessly, free running to present himself as the man with the plan. His always-enumerated proposals (first it was 59, now it is five) have become such a trope that they are a joke. In its opening skit after the first debate, "Saturday Night Live" had the president musing to himself while Romney kept running through the endless checklist.

Even in Hempstead, N.Y., where Obama righted himself after Denver, he was largely litigating Romney's plan, which only reinforces that the former Massachusetts governor has one - in contrast to the president.

In an Oct. 15 memo to fellow Democrats from pollster Stan Greenberg and operative James Carville, they wrote of the first debate, in alarmed tones, "Romney got the opportunity to be heard as the voice of change." Reporting on dial-test results from the Denver and Biden-Ryan debates, they noted that "Obama won most support when he said what he would do to make the economy better in the years ahead, but both Romney and Ryan spent much more time on that future and sounded like they had a real plan to make the economy better."

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