The Obama campaign just sent out a list of “Debate Lies,” a dozen of Mitt Romney’s fudges and falsehoods about his plans and promises. But they didn’t include his lies about the last four years. For example, Romney claimed that half the firms that received green-energy stimulus money went bust, when less than 1% of those firms failed. But the Obama campaign didn’t mention that, because it doesn’t want to discuss the Obama record.
That seems like a real problem.
I get that elections are about the future, not the past. I get that Obama is reluctant to brag about his accomplishments at a time when many Americans are hurting. I get that Obama has done fine in the polls by focusing on Romney and that “Stop lying about my record” didn’t work so well for Bob Dole. And since I wrote a book about the hidden story of change in the Obama era, I get that it’s a bit convenient me to suggest that the President really needs to tell that story.
But he’s got to tell some story, because otherwise Romney’s take on the Obama era will be the only one voters hear. In his opening statement, Obama did point out that he inherited a mess — although he didn’t explain what a GDP-crashing-at-a-9%-annual-rate, 800,000-job-losses-a-month, depression-level mess it was — and he did say that once his Administration reversed the free fall — he didn’t explain how — more than 5 million private-sector jobs were created. For the next 90 minutes, though, he mostly let Romney define the last four years, while quibbling about some of the details. He rarely explained what he has done.
I’m not just talking about my beloved stimulus, although Obama didn’t mention that the $800 billion recovery package he passed during his first month in office helped stop the swoon, producing the biggest quarterly jobs improvement in 30 years. He certainly didn’t mention that the stimulus included an unprecedented $90 billion for clean energy, and when Romney did, Obama didn’t explain how it launched a quiet green revolution or correct Romney’s egregious suggestion that thousands of stimulus-funded companies have failed. I can’t even think of a half-dozen. Romney talked about “losers” like Solyndra and Ener1; why didn’t Obama respond with winners like Envia Systems, which has developed the world’s most powerful electric-vehicle battery, or Silver Spring, which is building millions of smart meters for a modern electric grid? Romney mocked wind and solar; why not mention that wind has doubled, solar has increased over 600%, and they now combine to power 15 million homes with clean domestic electricity?
Granted, the word stimulus remains toxic, and Obama did mention that middle-class tax cuts and Race to the Top education reform were tucked into the stimulus. But he barely talked about his now popular rescue of the now booming U.S. auto industry. He didn’t mention that he allowed gays to serve openly in the military or that he stopped deportations of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. He somehow ended up in the weeds of Obamacare without explaining that his plan will ensure health insurance for millions of Americans who might otherwise end up in emergency rooms. He somehow ended up sounding apologetic about his far-reaching Wall Street reforms.
Obama also barely mentioned that Romney and the Republicans have fought him on every one of these issues — against an economic recovery package during an economic emergency, against the auto rescue, against the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” against the Dream Act for immigrants without papers through no fault of their own, against universal health insurance, against reforming the financial system after a financial meltdown. He let Romney compare the U.S. economy to Spain’s without pointing out that Spain lapsed into a double-dip recession after adopting the kind of austerity policies that Republicans have prescribed for the U.S. He didn’t mention that he pushed the American Jobs Act, which would have cut more taxes, invested in more infrastructure projects and saved more of the teaching jobs Romney said he valued before Republicans blocked it.
The point is that things are bad, and Obama can’t just warn that Romney will make them worse, especially now that Romney seems to be reinventing himself yet again as a sensible centrist who won’t cut taxes on the rich and likes all the good stuff in Obama’s health care and Wall Street reforms. The President needs to make the case that he’s made things less bad and that with more time he can make things not bad. Obviously, 2012 isn’t 2008, and his campaign can’t be all about change. But change happened. It didn’t make things perfect; it made things better. If even Obama won’t defend the last four years, then what’s the point of four more years?