3.07.2012

Mitt Romney's Messaging Challenge

Super Tuesday seems to have confirmed that the primary will drag out for months but that Mitt Romney will eventually be the Republican nominee.  (Unless there's a surprise at the convention?)

Count me among the legions of R's who are decidedly underwhelmed by Romney's campaign thus far.  Most maddening of all has been his inability to articulate a clear presentation of what it will take to juice our economy, maintain America's competitive edge, and put people to work.  As this recent Business Week article puts it, "Creative destruction is good for the economy.  So why can't Mitt Romney get anyone to believe it?"  (The cynic's direct answer to that question is "Because he is politically tone deaf.")

Admittedly, it is a complex and unpopular message to convey.  It's a well-worn story but worth repeating: technology and globalization have irrevocably changed our economy, with fantastic benefits for hundreds of millions around the world, but with dire consequences as to how we keep up and keep people employed.  We may long for the days of lifetime employment, guaranteed pensions, and high wages for low-skilled work, but those days are gone, whether we like it or not.

In the aggregate, we should like it.  There was a time that agriculture required a third of our labor, and another time that manufacturing required a third of our labor; now I think it's something like 2 percent and 10 percent, respectively.  This is a good thing.  It's good for all of us that our food and products can be made so much more cheaply, relying on ingenuity and automation rather than back-breaking labor in dangerous conditions.  Technology and globalization have led to unimaginable innovations that have improved the quality of our lives; from health care solutions to consumer products, could someone from even 50 years ago imagine what is so prevalent today that we take it for granted?

And yet, at a time when unemployment remains stubbornly high, young and old alike struggle with the disastrous effects of long-term unemployment, and fat cats make for an easy scapegoat for all these troubles, it takes some deft political jujitsu for a fabulously wealthy white male with impeccable hair to express a cogent message to the masses that will get people to buy that he's who we want in charge of our country.  To add to Romney's level of difficulty, he is up against a leader who represents a once-in-a-generation combination of intelligence, sense of the moment, and communications skills.

But guess what, Mitt Romney?  You're running for President of the Freakin' United States of America.  It ain't an easy job.  So we the people are right to expect that you can take on this messaging challenge.  Explain to us a clear way forward that incorporates the inherently destructive and rejuvenating nature of modern capitalism, taps into the uniqueness that is our national narrative, and speaks to the worries and fears of a frayed generation.  Stack up your view of the world and President Obama's, and decisively convince us that your way makes more economic sense, political sense, and common sense.  Lose the pandering about job creation and give us the straight up truth about how an economic superpower can gird itself for prosperity and equity in a fast-moving and volatile era.  I think I can speak for many others when I say: we are waiting for you to step up.
 
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