I am a huge fan of the idea of the Obama campaign closing with putting out an economic plan for the next four years. This is something I have been urging on them not only them but a number of other candidates in tough races for quite a while. I really believe that voters have a deep innate understanding that the economy came off the rails four years ago in a more serious way than usual, that it was due to some big structural problems that had been building for a long time, and that we needed some big, comprehensive ideas to revive the middle class and get the economy back on the right road. I think a great many Americans understand this deep in their bones, far better than the elites in DC who are in too much of a bubble, and are doing too well, to get it. Because of this, voters have been hungry for a serious plan, for big ideas on how to deal with what ails us.
So I am very glad that the plan is the central part of Obama's final message, and I think it is working: Obama remains ahead in the all-important swing states. I would have opted for a bigger and bolder plan if I were writing it, both for political and policy reasons, but having this plan be at the heart of the closing argument is a great thing. But there are two other pieces to the message that I think should be part of the entire Democratic party's end game message, and their progressive allies as well. These campaigns have a lot of ads running, and a lot of speeches being given, and there can be more than one element to the message.
The first is to bring the 47% video back to the table. That video came out shortly after the Democrats cleaned the clocks of the Republicans in terms of convention messaging. Voters had moved decisively toward Democrats, in races up and down the ticket, after hearing the two parties contrasting messages of "you're on your own" vs. "we're all in this together" -- and then the 47% video reinforced and hardened voters' rejection of Republican values. We had them on the run with a gap that was widening and solidifying. In the aftermath of the first debate, where Romney acted like he was a Democrat and the president failed to make a strong values argument, and worst of all failed to make the contrast between the ideas Romney discussed in the 47% video and Obama's "we're all in this together" values, the race returned to the deadlocked election it had been before the conventions. Worse, the Obama team and the many Democratic outside groups doing ads didn't go back to that values argument which the 47% video invoked, and voters stopped thinking about it. I hope that both the progressive groups doing ads and mail and calls in the final days of the campaign and the Obama campaign make the 47% part of the closing argument.
Here's the other thing I hope the president, vice president, and Democrats in general do in these closing days: remind voters that this is not just about Romney but about the entire philosophy and values of the Republican Party. One of the things that is absolutely clear in the polling reports I am reading is that the reason the president remains ahead in the swing states is that the brand of the entire Republican party, including Mitt Romney but not exclusively him for sure, is dragging them down. Congressional Republicans, whose intellectual leader is their VP nominee, is the most unpopular institution in American politics.
It's been interesting to me throughout the campaign that Obama has run pretty much exclusively against Romney and to a lesser extent Ryan, and have never chosen to run against the far more unpopular Republican Congress the way we did in the 1996 Clinton re-elect, and the way Harry Truman did in his 1948 campaign -- the last two Democrats to run for re-election with Republicans in control of the House. In our 1996 race, we made the decision early on to make the race not against Bob Dole but far more against Newt Gingrich -- we ran far more attack ads against Newt than we ever did against Dole.
There are some differences between this year and '96, of course. Boehner never made himself into the polarizing figure that Gingrich did early in '95, and Romney has had far more vulnerabilities (the appalling things he did at Bain Capital and the 47% video among them) to exploit than Dole, who was, well, dull. But I hope we close this campaign by reminding voters that the values of the 47% video and the Republican convention are not just Romney's values, but his party's values, and that putting them in charge of the country would be a disaster. It would also be a big boost to all these House and Senate Democrats running with Obama, which they need given the fire hose of nasty ads Karl Rove and his big money boys are spewing out. When George W. Bush ran for re-election in 2004, his campaign made it a point to run on an anti-Democratic party message because they wanted to sweep more Republicans in with them, and it worked. In the closing days of this campaign, Obama should be doing the same.
None of this contradicts promoting the president's plan. In fact, the contrast between Obama's pro-middle class, we're all in this together plan, and the values of a Republican party who believes that 47% of Americans are lazy welchers could not be a stronger end game message.
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