It's shaping up to be a heck of an election year. The guy who once bragged — Yosemite Sam style — about hunting for "varmints" is accusing the guy who hunted down Osama bin Laden of being an "appeaser." The Harvard Law guy who probably studied for the LSAT in his dad's governor's mansion is lecturing the guy who got there on a scholarship about the American dream. And President Barack Obama — the guy who took former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's health care plan nationwide — is being called a "failure" by … wait for it … Mitt Romney.
The GOP front-runner has his own problems, getting pilloried this week for telling CNN's Soledad O'Brien, "I'm not concerned about the very poor — we have a safety net there." And the president has his problems, too. He's personally popular, but his job-approval rating languishes at 48 percent.
But conventional wisdom says that Obama will lose the general election if he talks about his own record, and instead, that he should convert the election from a referendum on his first term into a choice between himself and Romney — an uptight "Richie Rich" who's simply too out of touch to deal head-on with the serious situation the country finds itself in.
The problem is, Obama's not exactly a hang-loose, blue-collar everyman, either. He might look that way in comparison to Romney, but he takes extra starch on his Brooks Brothers shirts, too.
Sure, Obama will have to run a couple of hundred million dollars' worth of negative ads this fall — that's how the game is played. But instead of focusing on Romney's shortcomings, Obama should tout his own accomplishments. If he accentuates the positive, Romney's résumé will still pale in comparison. And if he loses to Romney in the fall, at least he'll go down taking due credit for what he's done.
If the euro collapses, then all bets are off. But economic signs are starting to look up. Moody's economist Mark Zandi described January's drop to 8.3 percent unemployment overall — and 13.6 percent among blacks — and addition of 243,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls as "a fantastic jobs report, not a single blemish."
The Dow hit its low point at 6,626 on Obama's 47th day in office and closed Friday at 12,862 — just shy of its four-year high. Romney has a detailed economic plan that calls for some of the same things Obama proposed in his jobs plan, but if Obama can find a better way to trumpet his own record, then Romney will be forced to show how his plan helps the economy grow faster than it already has.
If we go to war with Iran over its nukes, then all bets are off. But in the last three years, Obama successfully managed the end of one war he inherited, turned the heat up on the other war he inherited and won the war that he and his European counterparts started — in six months, without a single U.S. or NATO casualty. If he does become president, Romney may or may not show us the same ice-cold war-making resolve of Obama, but he probably won't have that kind of record.
The Individual Mandate
Romney backers are twisting themselves into knots to justify the individual mandate in Romney's Massachusetts health insurance scheme and distinguish it from the mandate in Obama's health insurance scheme. This week, conservative lightning rod Ann Coulter penned a column bluntly acknowledging that until Obama came along, "mandatory private health insurance was considered the free market alternative to the Democrats' piecemeal socialization of the entire medical industry." She might provide cover for Romney in the GOP primaries, but it also means Romney will have to come up with a better way to explain away his position in 2007 that the individual mandate was "a good model for other states."
Because as things stand now, in future debates with Romney, all Obama will have to say in defense of his plan is, "You were right, Governor Romney … that's why we copied your plan."
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.