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October 31, 2014

Barack Obama Vs. Mitt Romney: The Campaign Begins

Barack Obama Vs. Mitt Romney: The Campaign Begins

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defeats President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, his road to victory might lead all the way back to the speech he delivered Friday in Appleton, Wis.

In that address, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee presented his philosophy on the economy and its relationship with the federal government as a vision. And more importantly, he provided a moral underpinning for his viewpoint that attempted to connect his ideas to average Americans. Voters might reject Romney’s vision and opt for Obama’s. The president has been quite adept at framing his policies on taxes and government spending in terms of “balance” and “fairness” for the “middle class,” and polling data has shown that voters have reacted favorably.

But for perhaps the first time in a while, Republicans are attempting to equalize the playing field. Romney in the Friday speech went beyond the clinical talking points often employed by Republicans on Capitol Hill that raising taxes on the “rich” should be rejected because they depress job creation. The ex-governor and former venture capitalist offered a moral defense for smaller government and keeping taxes low on wealthy earners — and attempted to explain why doing so is good for everyone else.

Armed with this argument, Romney and the Republicans might lose this debate. But in a fight with Obama that could be characterized by the morality of the candidates’ proposals for taxes and spending as much as their economic utility, Republicans could lose without it. This is not 1984, when Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale proposed simply (if not politically foolishly) to raise taxes on everyone, which allowed President Ronald Reagan to respond simply that he would not.

Some key lines from Romney’s Friday speech in Appleton, Wis., many of which were repeated during his Tuesday evening victory speech following primary wins in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the Badger State, and again today in D.C. during remarks to a convention of newspaper editors from across the country.

  • “So when this president attacks businesses for making more money, and when his policies make it more difficult for businesses to make money, he is also attacking the very communities he wanted to help.”
  • “When you attack business and vilify success, you will have less business and less success. And then of course the debate becomes about how much to extend unemployment insurance because you have guaranteed there will be millions more unemployed.”
  • “Business is not the enemy. It is the friend of jobs, of rising wages and of revenues government needs to care for the poor and the elderly, and to provide for the national defense.”

Obama appears to have believed Romney’s speech was important enough that he offered a direct rebuttal when he spoke to the convention of newspaper editors Tuesday. Conservatives found much to ridicule and criticize as factually incorrect in the president’s address, the first in which he mentioned Romney by name. But Obama’s ability to connect with voters through his rhetoric should not be underestimated.

The president makes a mostly moral case for his positions, and it is strong. A few revealing excerpts:

  • “We’re going to have to answer a central question as a nation:  What, if anything, can we do to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country?  Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by?  Or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules?”
  • “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any moment, might face hard times, might face bad luck, might face a crippling illness or a layoff.  And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee health care and a source of income after a lifetime of hard work.  We provide unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss and facilitates the labor mobility that makes our economy so dynamic.”
  • “In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few.  It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class.  That’s how a generation who went to college on the GI Bill, including my grandfather, helped build the most prosperous economy the world has ever known.  That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so they could buy the cars that they made.  That’s why research has shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.”

Romney all but wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday evening. These competing speeches offered by Obama and Romney during the past few days could ultimately frame the presidential battle for 2012. They offer starkly different messages communicated by markedly different politicians.

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