Playing with Fire

The Obama campaign does not want this election to be a referendum on the President’s record. And so for months we’ve been told that this election is a choice between two contrasting views of the American future—“the clearest choice of any time in a generation,” as President Obama said at his party’s convention in Charlotte. When Mitt Romney bypassed “safe picks” and chose a conservative reformer, Paul Ryan, as his running mate, the Left was giddy. This would be the choice-election they were hoping for.

Photo: President Obama and the real Mitt Romney

The choice that Obama wants to offer the American people is this: On the one hand is a hard-working (if humbled) incumbent who wants the chance to finish the hard work he’s started—putting a robust government into the business of building the middle class (and asking the wealthiest among us to do their fair share) in order to dig this country out of the economic mess left by the Last Guy. Contrast this to Mitt Romney: a bland, out-of-touch millionaire who wants to lower tax rates for the rich.

By painting Romney as a right-wing ideologue (tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts!), a “social-Darwinist” (ending Medicare as we know it!), and a capitalistic “vampire” (Bain!), not only does the Obama campaign hope to distract voters from the enormous disappointments of the last four years, the campaign hopes to pass off Obama’s own far-left progressive ideas as middle-of-the-road common sense.

This is the campaign the Obama team has been running, and, so far, winning. But Wednesday’s debate revealed the great flaw in this strategy, namely, Obama has been running as something he’s not against a candidate that doesn’t exist. Mitt Romney is certainly rich, but he’s also very smart, a proven executive, and the most ideologically moderate presidential candidate nominated by either party in decades.

Wednesday night, President Obama showed up as though he was expecting to debate the straw man he’s so carefully constructed these last few months. What he found was a determined opponent—a man ready to defend his positions while calling out the President on his disastrous record.

The President looked alternately unprepared, annoyed, and overmatched.

That’s the problem with straw men: sooner or later, they get exposed. In the middle of the debate, David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner put it very succinctly (via Twitter): “If you’ve been getting all your info from Obama ads up to now, you’re starting to feel like you’ve been lied to.”

The Obama campaign’s post-debate damage-control plan consists of equal parts re-erecting the straw man and simple denial. Pay no attention to the man who ran circles around the President in Wednesday night’s debate; he’s not real. (Yesterday President Obama actually told a crowd at a campaign event in Colorado that the Mitt Romney who routed him in the debate wasn’t the really Mitt Romney. Good luck convincing the 67 million Americans who watched the debate that they should believe the President rather than their own lyin’ eyes.)

A few weeks before the debate, Republican VP-candidate Paul Ryan described President Obama as a “pyromaniac in a field of straw men,” setting up phony opposition arguments and then destroying them with effortless aplomb. On Wednesday night, that strategy backfired badly and the President got burned.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.


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30 thoughts on “Playing with Fire

  1. C Russo says:

    Steve, You hit the nail on the head.

    1. Romney's Moving to the Left says:

      When are you folks going to apologize for defending and even racheting up Rmoney’s 47% remarks now that he’s done so and admitted that he was completely wrong? Or does your absolutely partisan support of Rmoney no matter what mean never having to say you’re sorry? Randy and his kindred doomed souls are no doubt disappointed that Rmoney is moving to the left. And you’ll be more disappointed when you come to the honest realization that his sister was telling the truth about him and abortion.

      1. Joe M says:

        I have nothing to apologize for in that regard. Romney clarified the same defense that I made about this faux scandal. Here is what Romney said:

        “Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right. In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong. And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.”

        When are you going to apologize for cherry-picking Romney’s comments and ignoring the context?

        1. Don't Forget Kermit says:

          “I said something that’s just completely wrong.,” said Rmoney. And you cherry-picked out his apology, Joe M, so go figure. Explain that on judgement day to your maker.

          1. Joe M says:

            lol. How did I cherry pick his apology? I just posted it along with the rest of what he said. Are you taking your 15 minute breaks?

          2. Don't Forget Kermit says:

            One minute you claim he didn’t apologize, but rather just defended himself, then you admit he did. You flip-flop more than Mitt.

          3. Joe M says:

            I didn’t claim that he didn’t apologize. The defense I referred to was against the cherry-picked meaning that you and others have attributed to Romney’s speech.

            When are you going to apologize for cherry-picking a person’s words in order to distort their meaning?

      2. abadilla says:

        Why should I apologize for what he said? He was correct. Now, are you apologizing for the President’s “You didn’t build that!” or Biden’s “We are burying the middle class’ in this country, something, by the way, I agree with him.

    2. Romney's Moving to the Left says:

      When are you folks going to apologize for defending and even racheting up Rmoney’s 47% remarks now that he’s done so and admitted that he was completely wrong? Or does your absolutely partisan support of Rmoney no matter what mean never having to say you’re sorry? Randy and his kindred doomed souls are no doubt disappointed that Rmoney is moving to the left. And you’ll be more disappointed when you come to the honest realization that his sister was telling the truth about him and abortion.

  2. The President’s Record: 141,000 jobs added last month, 142,000 in August, 181,000 in July. Jobless rate continues to fall. He did it all with a Republican lead House of Representatives that outright said that they would block any efforts that would help the recovery in order to insure President Obama was a one term president – putting the lives of working Americans on the line in order to accomplish the Republican vendetta against the President.

    Mitt Romney is skilled at buying profitable companies, dismantling them, laying off workers, and shipping jobs overseas.

    1. Randall says:

      Those numbers are made up – and constantly retroactively made better! – by Obama’s cronies. And the supposed plan to hamstring The One at the expense of employment? Even if that was true, it would be worth it, short term pain, long term gain. Unlike the Democrat policy, which is short term gain (flat screens and spinning rims for welfare queens), long term pain (China owns us). Furthermore, for every new job that is added, two more people give up looking for a job. Thanks, Oblahblah. Your policies have bankrupted this once great nation.

      1. ROFLMAO. I hope you don’t think you are making a better case by claiming that the numbers are made up. Was Elvis kidnapped by aliens with big eyes too?

        1. Joe M says:

          I don’t think the numbers are made up. But, the irony here is that you think that the numbers show improvement.

          1. Rad says:

            Because they do.

          2. Joe M says:

            Because you think that population growth is only about babies?

            We need 150k jobs created per month just to keep up with population growth at the same employment levels.

            To call the job growth in Obama’s economy an accomplishment is like boasting that you sold 100 ice-cream cones for 50 cents when you paid $1 for each one. Based on Obama’s debate performance, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he really does think that his job growth statistic is positive. He may really be that economically illiterate.

          3. Don't Forget Kermit says:

            A percentage decrease in unemployment is an improvement based on population percentages which takes into account the factors you note. Do you understand percentages, Joe M?

          4. Joe M says:

            Your assumption is incorrect. A percentage decrease in the unemployment rate does not always indicate an economic improvement. For example, the rate would go down if people give up looking for work.

    2. Joe M says:

      You do realize that we need 150,000 jobs added per month just to keep up with population growth, right?

      By your own citation, we lost ground last month and in August. July was a tepid advancement. This is why the lefts x-number of months of consecutive job growth boast is bogus. Job growth that doesn’t keep up with population growth is still employment conditions in decline.

      1. Rad says:

        I didn’t realize babies needed jobs.

        1. Joe M says:

          Hah! Did you realize that if 150k babies are born on 10/6/12 that close to 150k people will turn 18 on 10/6/30?

    3. abadilla says:

      “The President’s Record: 141,000 jobs added last month, 142,000 in August, 181,000 in July. Jobless rate continues to fall.”
      And not a word about the millions of people who stopped looking for a job because they can’t find one, and they are no longer counted in these statistics to come up with the latest numbers. Once again, Obama is as “honest” on economic matters as he is in foreign policy. He is still “monitoring” Syria after more than one hundred-thousand people are dead, and he is “monitoring” Syria after Syria has attacked Turkey, a NATO ally. By the way, we are still waiting this administration’s true explanation of why we have a dead ambassador in Lybia. Brilliant foreign policy.

  3. Randall says:

    The problem is that O-blame-o and his Chicago union thugs have managed to cook the books on unemployment numbers. I guess when you’re in the Big Chair and you’re friends with Saul Alinsky, you can make a few phone calls and make sure the folks who announce the numbers will say what you want them to, to escape with their lives. Something tells me that the day before election day, the Dow will be over 20,000, gas will suddenly plummet to 50 cents a gallon, unemployment will be at 1%, and Kentucky Fried Chicken will have an all you can eat free buffet. Three days later Hussein is still the President and the blindfolds come off. We are back to bread lines.

    1. I’m trying to hire people at my company and I can’t find a single worker that has the skills that we need and is available for work. No one is cooking the numbers, the only people that are still out of work don’t have the skills needed for today’s business because Republicans continue to block efforts to re-train them. Businesses need skilled employees. Refusing to invest in job-retraining just insures that these people remain on government assistance. We need to help people get to work, so why are the Republicans continuing to railroad these efforts?

      1. Randall says:

        You can’t find skilled workers because under the Zerobama regime, they have all given up. That and he has opened the floodgates to foreign workers over American ones because he hates America. Our offices and hospitals are filled with Chinese and Indian workers instead of American ones, thanks O-loser. And why do you think Republicans or even Democrats have anything to do with retraining workers? Oh right, Big Mommy Government is the answer to everything. These people should stop whining and go to college to retrain. Not motivated enough? You have no right to complain. Not enough money for college? Do what everyone else does and work at Starbucks to earn the money, or take out a loan from your parents.

      2. HyacinthClare says:

        I agree with Randall, “Let”. If the people who come to your door have no skills, “the Republicans” are a cheap excuse. Poor schools, too much self-esteem, and if I don’t have skills, I can always go on disability… welfare is an excellent alternative to a start-at-the-beginning job. You’re blaming the wrong people.

        1. Another kind of Christian says:

          Ah yes, the 47%. The 47% that Rmoney now says he loves, that he was wrong about. But you continue to blame them, find fault with them, despise them. That says a lot about your brand of Christianity.

          1. HyacinthClare says:

            I will answer you, because you have judged me wrongly, as you judge Mr. Romney in this case. He never once said he despised 47% of the country. He said he felt that the people who were dependent on government were unlikely to vote for him, and unlikely to respond to his plans for a tax cut since they didn’t pay any taxes anyway. That is simply a statement of obvious fact. If it is contemptuous to say the truth — that some able-bodied, adult people for whatever reason just don’t have the skills to hold down a job — what do you prefer, Christian? Do you want me to call the employer Randall a fool or a knave? Is lying about his applicants more charitable to you? Without telling the truth about a problem, there is no possible solution to it. St. Paul said he who does not work should not eat. Is his Christianity also deficient?

          2. Judgement Day says:

            Rmoney apologized, He admitted he was wrong. Why can’t you? Explain it to your maker on judgement day.

          3. abadilla says:

            He didn’t apologize. He said he could have phrased his thoughts better!

    2. whartman4 says:

      The big Empty chair.

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