The dearth of detail
Using a creative metaphor involving belts, suspenders, elastic waistbands, and Henry Fonda, Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal on Thursday advanced the suggestion that Mitt Romney needs to advance more bold plans, with detailed specifics, in order to recapture the lead from Barack Obama.
Actually, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, Romney has recaptured the lead – he’s ahead 48-45 nationwide – but it’s clearly still a very tight race, and like many observers, Strassel is disturbed by President Obama’s ability to survive economic news that should have ground his numbers into the dust. Strassel diagnoses the problem, in part, as Romney’s decision to run a cautious campaign, giving Obama plenty of opportunities to define him:
Voters know that things are rotten; the GOP needn’t spend $100 million telling them so. What they don’t know is how we got here. (Was it Bush’s fault? So says Mr. Obama, while Mr. Romney says nothing.) And they don’t know how Mr. Romney proposes to fix it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. They are getting an idea of Romney policies—courtesy of the president. Mr. Obama may himself have no ideas, but he is an expert on the Republican’s plans. Mr. Romney will raise middle-class taxes. Mr. Romney will take away health care. Mr. Romney will strip seniors of programs. In the absence of Mr. Romney explaining his reforms—and how they work—why not believe the president?
But she goes on to concede that Romney “has a hearty reform agenda” – he just isn’t talking it up enough, or advancing his most potentially groundbreaking ideas with confidence. “Americans respond well to A-B-C explanations of valuable reform,” Strassel suggests. “(Here is what is wrong. Here is my policy to fix it. Here is how it works, with three examples. Here is the good that comes of it.) Were Mr. Romney to apply this formula to health care, entitlements, food stamps and college loans, he’d be winning.”
That’s excellent advice, although I note that when I talked to Paul Ryan on Thursday, he expressed some frustration that so many people continue to accept the criticism that the Romney campaign wasn’t offering specific proposals, because they’ve offered more detailed proposals than Obama ever does.
Team Romney has to prepare for a good deal of repetition. They’ll have to lay out those A-B-C arguments over and over again, to over-ride the media’s desire to characterize them as devoid of specific proposals. They’ll probably have to make their peace with the necessity of choosing a few crucial points to emphasize, because there just isn’t enough time for them to repeat every point they would like to make, firmly enough to focus media coverage and public attention.
The other challenge Romney and Ryan face is that Big Government enthusiasts enjoy a playing field slanted heavily in their favor, when it comes to discussing specifics. Merely announcing a multi-billion-dollar program to address some problem is essentially credited as solving the problem. Extensive details are not generally requested to demonstrate that the “plan” is credible. Even in these times of budgetary peril, it’s not all that important for the Big Government types to explain how their plans will be funded.
Thus, it’s easy for Obama to pass off half a trillion dollars in pork-barrel spending as a “jobs bill,” knowing the media will repeat that term without hesitation… but a plan to return wealth and economic liberty to the private sector, so that healthy job creation really can occur, is likely to be portrayed as no plan at all. The critic of ObamaCare is expected to present his trillion-dollar, mandate-heavy, micromanaged federal health care “solution,” not talk about giving state governments and individual citizens the power and resources to take care of their own needs.
Success is assumed for government programs, while the private sector doesn’t even get credit for trying. The presumed alternative to central planning is chaos. Anything the government doesn’t “take care of” is neglected. Private sector opportunity is not viewed as a fair exchange for the promises of the State, no matter how often the State fails to deliver on its promises.
Speaking past the media to address Americans directly will go a long way towards dispelling this mindset. The ultimate “details” of any agenda to restore our liberty and prosperity will be written by the people, through millions of free choices and voluntary investments. That shouldn’t be a difficult notion to sell… unless the people who had no problem with Obama trundling through Congress, while huge sections remained unwritten, are entrusted as salesmen.