Updated: November 6, 2012 6:22AM
Asignature achievement of Mitt Romney’s debate triumph over President Barack Obama in Denver was to nudge the presidential campaign back toward being a referendum on Obama’s failed policies that have left the nation in an economic quagmire of lost jobs, falling family income, a stagnating economy and little hope for anything better.
Obama’s strategy is to frame the election as a choice between the two candidates and paint Romney in an unfavorable light. Millions of dollars spent by Obama and his supporters on often dishonest ads smeared Romney as a vulture capitalist, out-of-touch plutocrat, unfeeling rich guy responsible for the cancer death of one woman, and a stiff, humorless cardboard figure.
That false narrative disappeared as if vaporized by a “Star Wars” laser gun Wednesday as the nation saw a personable, at ease, knowledgeable business executive voicing empathy for the casualties of the Obama economy who he meets on the campaign trail.
“You’ve been president four years,” said Romney as he rattled off the sorry record of 23 million people unemployed or underemployed, the trillion dollars in red ink from a president who had promised to cut the deficit in half, the huge jump to 47 million Americans on food stamps, two years of steadily shrinking economic growth, and small business startups at a 30-year low.
Romney had an answer for the Democrats’ excuse that the recession was such a calamity that no president could fix it in one term. Obama, Romney pointed out, spent his first two years in the White House getting the Affordable Care Act enacted instead of turning a laser focus on the economy. Obama fiddled on the cherished liberal goal of universal health care as the economy burned.
ObamaCare was supposed to be a double-edged campaign sword wounding Romney because, as governor of Massachusetts, he passed something similar. Whereas Obama shoved his program down America’s throat with strictly partisan votes in Congress, Republican Romney working with a Democratic-controlled legislature passed the Massachusetts health care plan with a big bipartisan majority — only two no votes.
That served to underscore another Obama failure — the reluctance of the candidate of change to live up to his promise of taming the cynical, divisive politics of Washington by reaching across the aisle to Republicans. His 2008 victory sweeping in big Democratic majorities in Congress deluded him into thinking he could ignore GOP ideas in the legislative process.
Romney has even adopted the choice argument, using Obama’s record as a powerful argument for a choice for change — in effect really a referendum on Obama.
Much has been made, especially by his Democratic cheerleaders, of Obama’s subdued, unenthusiastic, hardly engaged presence in Denver. Anyone searching for clues to why that happened should look no further than Vice President Joe Biden’s fawning, sycophantic speech at the Democratic convention. Or flattery heaped on Obama by the women of “The View” or “Late Night’s” David Letterman. Or the worship he receives from the Hollywood crowd. The president lives in a world where he can do no wrong. He’s not used to being challenged.
Still, there’s more to the drubbing Obama got in Denver than his failure to show up. He had the unenviable job of defending the virtually indefensible — his own record.