The PJ Tatler

LA Times Frets: Obama's Message is Just Too Darn Nuanced and Complex

“Hope and Change”: Born February 10, 2007 — Died June 12, 2012. Obama’s current message, the hoary old socialist trope “Forward,” just doesn’t quite lather up Obama’s allies at the LA Times.

As the president himself readily acknowledges, the simplicity of his Republican challenger’s case lends itself to easy persuasion.

Romney, Obama told campaign donors last week in Beverly Hills, reminds voters constantly of their unhappiness with the stalled economy. “That’s the essence of their campaign,” he said. “It’s very easy to put on a bumper sticker: ‘It’s Obama’s Fault.’ “

Romney’s actual slogan is “Obama Isn’t Working,” but the president obviously can’t say that or his own audience is likely to snicker, since he would be saying it while abandoning the Oval Office to conduct half a dozen campaign fundraisers a day. Or play golf.

Blaming Obama is indeed the premise of Romney’s argument, along with a promise to create jobs by shrinking government.

Obama’s counter-argument is layered with nuance and complexity.

It starts with an attempt to undercut Romney. As a corporate buyout executive, Romney shipped jobs overseas and reaped millions of dollars in fees from takeover deals that destroyed U.S. factory jobs, the Obama campaign says. As Massachusetts governor, Romney built a poor record on job creation, the argument continues.

Turning to his own record, Obama tells voters that he inherited an economy on the brink of collapse and averted a depression. He takes credit for a resurgence in manufacturing, the rescue of the automobile industry and the creation of more than 4 million jobs since February 2010.

Tellingly, he doesn’t take credit for the signature legislation he blew his political capital on, ObamaCare.

Obama also slams Republicans in Congress for blocking his plans to stimulate more jobs. To inoculate himself from potential setbacks over the summer and fall, he warns of economic trouble spilling over from Europe.

In the end, Obama says, he would keep the country moving forward while Romney would take it back to the George W. Bush policies that wrecked the economy in the first place.

All in all, it is more a narrative than a bumper sticker, and that’s a potential problem for Obama.

Complicating matters are caveats in the narrative. It’s not that Romney was wrong to reap profits on corporate buyouts, goes one, it’s that the factory jobs lost along the way show that Romney was not concerned about the lives that were upended by his lucrative deals.

“Simplicity is important,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “A powerful message has to be self-explanatory.”

Indeed. It also has to carry some real meaning. Enter, Romney’s message “Obama Isn’t Working.” Obama’s counter to that is…? Apparently, Obama’s counter is the distraction of the week, and “Mitt Romney is a poopie head.” Plus “George Bush was a bigger poopie head.” But for Obama, looking backward isn’t really helping, and his own allies bristle when he attacks Romney’s private sector work. As for his slogan, looking “Forward” brings up a question: Forward, to what?

Just as in 2008 when he said he would “fundamentally transform America” but didn’t spell out what that meant, Obama isn’t saying what “Forward” really means. As long as Obama doesn’t give it meaning, “Forward” is an empty word into which Mitt Romney can pour meaning when he chooses to, while he also points out that Obama isn’t working. The president cannot even utter that enemy slogan without eliciting a knowing chuckle from his own audiences. The president is in quite a complex and nuanced pickle.

Romney does not have this thing sewn up, but he does have the president reeling and rebooting.

Footnote: The LA Times knows exactly how complicated things can get for their hero. That paper is still actively hiding an Obama skeleton in the form of the Obama/Khalidi tape, as it has done for years.