“Okay, fellas, what can I talk about that’s more outrageous than Obama’s mediocre economy?
“How about leading from behind in the Middle East, Governor? You could use your stuff about faith and free markets, our genius at starting bipartisan wars and at fixed things everywhere. You could hammer him about Egypt and Iraq’s monthly unemployment reports too!
“Gosh, I could look him in the eye and say: ‘They were dancing in the streets four years ago; but are Muslims feeling better today?’”
This transcript is incomplete; it’s only rough literary non-fiction. And it isn’t intended to slight Romney’s promise to protect Medicare and close any remaining gaps in the American social safety net—the one that tens of thousands of bleeding-heart sociologists and nutritionists have overlooked since the invention of the national census. It’s just one of those telling moments Bob Woodward hears about and then uses to explain big history for each fall’s bestseller’s list.
Nevertheless, for the first time since Ronald Reagan started reading speeches about markets, conservative strategists actually seem to be running away, not from one of their own mistakes, but from their own faith that the economy is their issue.
For a generation it didn’t matter if Democrats talked more about workers and consumers. Republican abstractions about tough management and tax cuts were supposed to be better for the economy and that’s what grown-ups had to vote for. However, is Obama’s "likability" outside of Washington and those tax-exempt shelters for faith-based politics now killing the economy as the issue for Mitt Romney? That’s the conclusion of economic historian neo-con Niall Ferguson.
“The economy's in the tank, yet Romney can't seem to gain an edge. One thing's for sure: this election is about personal likability. It's not the economy, stupid.”
Ferguson's logic is impeccable: it excuses his followers and questions the intelligence of everyone else.
Obama isn’t that likeable. The problematic elephant in the Republican war-room in Boston is not that the people are stupid or dazzled by the President. The problem is that the Republican economic alternative makes them nervous.
Obama’s uninspiring speech at his convention simply told Americans: he would guard their interests. He didn’t promise to transform anything or even to sweat like a business executive. He’s up nearly five points in the polls.