In this week's Ricochet Podcast, our own Peter Robinson fretted that Mitt Romney doesn't yet seem like a candidate who's ready to take on Barack Obama in the fall. I don't know whether Peter should take heart or not at Romney's Speech to the Newspaper Association of America yesterday (this is the same group that President Obama spoke to on Tuesday, treating the whole affair as if it was halftime in his own locker room). The problem, you see, is that Romney was by turns both rhetorically pointed and soporific. This, for instance, was a very well executed passage:
A couple of months ago, we saw a fascinating exchange on Capitol Hill that epitomized not only this administration’s inaction on entitlements, but also its appalling lack of leadership. The President’s Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, was testifying before Congress. And Congressman Paul Ryan – who, unlike this President, has had the courage to offer serious solutions to the problems we face – was pressing Geithner on the administration’s failure to lead on entitlement reform. Geithner's response was this: “We are not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
Take a moment and think about that: We don’t have a solution. All we know is we don’t like yours. It almost makes one long for the days when the President simply led from behind.
And now, in the middle of the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression, the President purports to have experienced a series of election-year conversions.
As President, he has repeatedly called for tax increases on businesses. Now, as candidate Obama, he decides that a lower corporate tax rate would be better.
As President, he’s added regulations at a staggering rate. Now, as candidate Obama, he says he wants to find ways to reduce them.
As President, he delayed the development of our oil and coal and natural gas. Now, as candidate Obama, he says he favors an energy policy that adopts an all-of-the-above approach.
Nancy Pelosi famously said that we would have to pass Obamacare to find out what was in it. President Obama has turned that advice into a campaign strategy: He wants us to re-elect him so we can find out what he will actually do.
It could still use a little sharpening, but Romney is on the right track. The Pelosi passage at the bottom needs to become a regular part of the stump speech, punctuated by the specific example of the president's "I'll have more space" gaffe with Russian President Medvedev (Romney did reference that faux pas in a different part of the speech, but it was elliptical and untethered to a broader indictment of the president).
This is a potentially resonant theme. Romney can go all the way back to the "bitter clingers" remarks in San Francisco from the 2008 campaign to make the case that Obama has always been a different guy behind closed doors than he is out on the campaign trail. And the hot mic incident only proves that he plans on breaking the leash the morning after Election Day. There are a lot of potential voters who would be turned off by the notion of a second term if they thought it was going to play out as "Obama Gone Wild."
There are still times, however, when the utterly beige Romney comes out to play. To wit, here he addresses the journalists directly:
I do know this: You will continue to find ways to provide the American people with reliable information that is vital to our lives and to our nation. And I am confident that the press will remain free. But further, I salute this organization and your various institutions in your effort to make it not only free, but also responsible, accurate, relevant, and integral to the functioning of our democracy.
Given the number and scale of our nation’s current challenges, the November election will have particular consequence. It will be a defining event. President Obama and I have very different visions for America, both of what it means to be an American today and what it will mean in the future.
The voters will expect each of us to put our respective views on the table. We will each make our case, buttressed by our experience. The voters will hear the debates, be buffeted by advertising, and be informed by your coverage. And hopefully after all this, they will have an accurate understanding of the different directions we would take and the different choices we would make.
Wow, is this bland; "I'll have a bowl of unflavored oatmeal and a glass of tap water" bland. Did Romney really take two paragraphs to describe how elections work? He felt the need to assert that he's "confident that the press will remain free?" ("Yes, Governor, but what do you think are the prospects for soldiers being quartered in our homes during peacetime?")
The first Romney cited above is a guy with the potential to win an election. The second one is the substitute teacher who's lost control of the class by 8:30. Regardless of which one is the real Romney, only the former can be allowed in public for the next seven months.