President Obama will have his first official 2012 campaign rally tomorrow in Columbus, Ohio, with a major event at Ohio State University. To mark the occasion, Mitt Romney has an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, "welcoming" the president to the Buckeye State (via Greg Sargent).
Most of the piece is fairly predictable -- it uses the word "fail" four times -- and some of it is just odd. Romney argues that the economy hasn't turned around in places like Ohio, which just isn't true -- the jobless rate in the state is down to 7.5%, dropping to its best level in several years.
Here's Romney's pitch, ostensibly to the president:
Unlike you, I am not a career politician. Unlike you, I've spent more than two decades working in the private sector, starting new businesses and turning around failing ones. Undoing the damage you've done will be a daunting challenge. But I've learned a thing or two about how government policies can kill private investment and stifle job creation and I have a plan to get government out of the way. [...]
I have spent much of my life in business, turning around troubled enterprises. I can do the same for the most troubled of all enterprises: our federal government.
Let's put aside the fact that Romney arguably is a "career politician" -- the guy's been running for various offices for 18 years -- as well the rather ridiculous notion that Obama has done "damage" to the economy. Instead, there are two broad angles to the piece that stood out for me.
The first is that Romney had a chance to put his know-how to use when he, after making a similar pitch, got elected governor of Massachusetts. And yet, Romney's entire op-ed doesn't include any references at all to his only leadership experience in public office. How can Romney boast about his background, and pretend his life experiences stopped in 2002?
Perhaps because while Romney was in office, applying all of those lessons he learned about the economy, Massachusetts' job creation was "one of the worst in the country," ranking 47th out of 50 states in job growth.
If Romney's such a turnaround artist, aside from the mass layoffs he orchestrated at his vulture capital firm, shouldn't Massachusetts have fared far better under his leadership? Wouldn't he have been able to leave Boston as a success, rather than a wildly unpopular one-term governor?
The second angle has to do with what we talked about yesterday: Romney still can't engage in any meaningful form of transactional politics.
Romney's op-ed says he's constantly meeting Americans "who are tired of being tired" -- a line his speechwriters appear to have stolen from Joe Biden -- but note just how little he has to offer those who are struggling. Romney's "path forward," as he puts it, is to simply "get government out of the way."
That's nice enough rhetoric, I suppose, but it reinforces an unavoidable truth: there are no public constituencies with which Romney has anything constructive to offer.
When he talks to students, "getting government out of the way" means cutting off their college aid and health insurance.
When he talks to seniors, "getting government out of the way" means raising the cost of prescription drugs and turning Medicare into a voucher scheme.
When he talks to firefighters, teachers, and police officers, "getting government out of the way" means massive layoffs and pay cuts.
When he talks to those worried about foreclosure or hospital bills or paying for groceries, "getting government out of the way" means wishing them luck, because a Romney administration plans to tell them they're on their own.
As we discussed yesterday, campaign politics, especially at the national level, tends to have a definite transactional quality. A candidate will identify a group of voters and offer to make what is, in effect, a trade -- in exchange for your support in the election, the candidate will deliver a policy that will make a material difference in your life.
But Romney's appeal to the American mainstream, reinforced by today's op-ed, is to tell them that public institutions will simply stop trying to offer them benefits, protections, and safeguards. He doesn't have anything to offer in exchange for votes, except a pat on the back and best wishes when already-struggling people find themselves more isolated and on their own.
His is an agenda of austerity, a sharp reduction in public investments, and hostility towards government activism in general. In a transactional sense, Romney has to hope most voters aren't looking to make a traditional electoral trade, because he doesn't intend to give them anything.