With the issues of health care and immigration temporarily fading from the headlines, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be forced to refocus on the more decisive issue of America’s economy. While each salesman has already pitched his recovery plan, neither has generated the kind of electoral capital that can secure a November victory. If either candidate is going to gain a critical advantage with undecided voters, some economic policy revision will be necessary.
In a culture that has embraced 140 character messages as a mainstream mode of communication, austerity measures are vital to an economic policy’s presentation, not its implementation. Herman Cain understood this, and if not for unrelated character issues, his 9-9-9 plan might have won him the Republican nomination. Simplicity of message is essential, and only one Presidential candidate offers a plan that, with minor streamlining, can capitalize on Americans’ limited attention spans.
Consider the approach of Mitt Romney: reduce government spending, lower taxes, and ease government regulations on businesses. The rhetoric behind these three separate ideas is direct, but the simultaneous execution of three economic strategies is complex and raises some problematic issues for the Romney campaign.
Spending cuts, which Romney supports, could certainly help reduce the country’s federal deficit. To a large portion of the electorate, this is a common sense solution because if more debt equals a poorer economy, less debt must in turn equal a better economy, right? Republicans have done an effective job of correlating the amassing deficit to the sagging economy, but Mitt Romney has not offered a simple explanation of the inverse. That is, how a reduced debt (or no debt for that matter) magically fixes the economy. There is a plausible explanation; the problem is that the plausible explanation is complicated. At best, Romney can only point to the reduction of America’s debt as the first of many financial dominos that must strategically fall for Americans to see more help wanted ads in their local newspapers.
Regardless of the details, Romney’s pledge to lower taxes is a simple idea with mass appeal. However, by twice balking at the payroll tax cuts proposed by Obama, Republicans complicated what should be the most fundamental of Romney’s suggested economic tactics. The average American may now suspiciously question why Romney’s party opposed a payroll tax cut that benefits middle class Americans, especially at a time when the same party was fighting so hard to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
As for lifting government regulations on businesses to fix the economy, Romney is appealing to a small population of white-collar executives and Wall Street profiteers. As a former business executive himself, Romney certainly understands how fewer rules and less oversight will boost the profits of companies like Bain Capital, but he fails to make a concise connection between profits for a select few and a better economy for all.
America is and always will be a nation of employees, not employers. The employees have watched the incomes of their CEOs grow exponentially as middle class incomes have stalled. So while the potential increases in profits enabled by fewer restrictions should theoretically trickle down through the company, will American employees trust in an economic model that is contradicted by the ballooning wealth of the one percent? Or will they skeptically conclude that when the company makes more money, the boss makes more money?
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, there is no causal link direct enough between any of his three major economic strategies and new jobs for Americans. And that is why his campaign, without serious revision, is likely to fail. More jobs and a prospering economy could surely be the pleasant side effects of the candidate’s treatment plan for the economy, but those side effects are obscured in lengthy fine print.
Now consider the President’s plan. Since Obama has played too coy to succinctly state what should be the obvious, here is a paraphrased version: Take money from the rich folks and use it to create public sector jobs for unemployed folks. That’s it (in 93 characters). If Obama embraces this simplistic message and delivers it with conviction, he will continue to be called a socialist, he will continue to be charged with inciting class warfare, but he will also continue to be President, because a country of middle and working class employees will vote for something they can understand before they trust in a complex, multi-step equation which only the rich feign to comprehend.