The giant Mitt Mobile will swing through small towns from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. If you look on a map, you’ll see those states don’t fit together in a continuous swath. That means each likely has been chosen for particular reasons. What are they? What’s Mr. Romney hope to accomplish with this trip?
We’ll wrestle with that second question first by way of setting the background for further discussion. It’s our belief that overall the point of the venture is simply to stay up in the Obama team’s face.
Since attaining presumptive nominee status Romney has conducted an aggressive general election campaign. He declined to rebuke supporter Donald Trump after The Donald kept raising the discredited Obama-wasn’t-born-in-the-US issue. He pounced on Mr. Obama’s remark that the private sector is “fine” to the point where he raises it at every stop. When Obama scheduled a major speech on the economy, Romney scheduled his own, at the same time.
“The discipline that the Romney campaign has displayed so far is quite impressive. And it’s something that is just frustrating the daylights out of the White House,” wrote NBC’s First Read political column Friday.
The bus tour should be seen in this light. It’s hitting some of the nation’s most important swing states at the very beginning of the general election campaign season.
Take New Hampshire. President Obama has a slim lead there, according to polls, and he won the Granite State in 2008. But Romney has a summer home there and remains relatively popular. New Hampshire is one of the most elastic of swing states, according to New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver. That means a high percentage of its independents are in fact independent, and could be persuaded to vote for either side.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is something of the opposite of New Hampshire. It’s inelastic, a crucial swing state with relatively few persuadable voters. That means turn-out is key at every election. Republicans must do well in the small towns between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in the exurbs. That’s why Romney’s stops there include Quakertown, outside of Philly.
Obama easily won Pennsylvania in 2006, and currently has a modest polling lead in the state. So in that sense a Romney visit to the Keystone State is taking it to Obama on his home turf.
Ohio is Ohio, namely, the most closely balanced, crucial, important, election-night-nailbiter in the country. If they could, both Romney and Obama probably would hit Ohio in every campaign trip. They’d probably rename their dogs “Ohio” if they thought it would help.
Wisconsin, of course, is where GOP Gov. Scott Walker just survived a recall election. Many Republicans hope the energy this generated in their party will translate to an advantage for Romney in a state that’s otherwise generally blue in presidential elections.
Exit polls from the recall showed Obama with a lead there, however. And the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls puts the president ahead in Wisconsin by 3.4 percent.
Obama similarly has a bit of a polling edge in Iowa. But it’s a slim one, and the Romney campaign thinks the small town nature of the tour could showcase their candidate’s edge among rural voters.
Michigan? In some ways that’s Romney’s most curious bus tour stop of all. Yes, he was raised there and has said he considers it his home state. His dad was a popular governor, to the point where many Michiganders of a certain age reminisce about what a great guy he was. (Full disclosure: We are Mitten State bred ourselves.)
But Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout is a problem for both line workers and executives. If you recall, there was some question in the weeks prior to Michigan’s February GOP primary whether Romney would be able to pull it out over a surging Rick Santorum. (He did.)
The RealClearPolitics rolling average for Michigan has Obama up by 5.4 percent. But perhaps Romney feels he has to visit his childhood state, a place where, in his words, the trees are “the right height.”
Plus, it's not as if he’s going to union halls in Detroit. Among his scheduled stops are a bakery in Frankenmuth (a vacation town otherwise known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria”) and Holland State Park, in the conservative southwestern part of the state.
You can tell a lot from a T-shirt.
We've just been perusing the "Runway to Win" collection – an assortment of shirts, bags, and other gear created for the Obama campaign by well-known fashion designers such as Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg, and Marc Jacobs, available for purchase on the campaign website.
The line (if you can call it that) was promoted this week at an Obama fundraiser by none other than Vogue editor Anna Wintour, one of the president's top bundlers. It ostensibly offers Obama supporters a chance to own an item of clothing by a top designer at a price far below what their wares normally fetch.
But if this is an effort to recapture some of the Obama "cool" of 2008, it feels oddly tin-eared.
At a time when millions of Americans are still facing serious economic hardship, a collection of $45 T-shirts and $75 tote bags by designers typically associated with the East Hampton set does not exactly scream empathy.
Here's the thing. Back in 2008, Obama shirts were actually cool. That iconic "HOPE" poster, designed by artist Shepard Fairey, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, wound up on shirts, mugs, and stickers, and, eventually, in the National Portrait Gallery.
But now that bloom is off the rose. Aspiration has been replaced by cynicism. As Jimmy Kimmel joked at the White House Correspondents Dinner, "Mr. President, remember when the country rallied behind you in hopes of a better tomorrow? That was hilarious."
By contrast, the in-your-face ironic collection of Mitt Romney shirts recently introduced by Urban Outfitters feels far more suited to these disillusioned times. The T-shirts aren't ostensibly promoting the candidate (though some bloggers have accused the retail giant – whose founder is a noted supporter of conservative causes – of sneaky subversive messaging). They make fun of Mr. Romney's squareness, and, by implication, the whole political process.
One shirt depicts Romney wearing make-up like Kiss's Gene Simmons, while another has the nonsensical slogan "2 Legit 2 Mitt," with the candidate in MC Hammer parachute pants. They're silly, but the message is also deeply cynical.
According to the store's website, the shirts reading: "Mitt is the [word rhyming with Mitt that we cannot print in a family newspaper]" have actually sold out.
Inevitably, Obama's message has been moving into more cynical territory, too. In Cleveland yesterday, he admitted "of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Of course we have a lot more work to do. Everybody knows that." If 2008 was about a post-partisan vision of unity, it seems 2012 may be about embracing the partisan divide. As Obama put it: "What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate."
It may not be a slogan that lends itself easily to a T-shirt. But Hope 2.0 is clearly going to be a different kind of campaign. Now they just need some new gear.
The first couple attended a much-promoted fundraiser in Manhattan Thursday night at the home of actress Sarah Jessica Parker. So how did that go? Did the combined star power crash the West Village power grid? Did President Obama raise (tasteful) basketsful of cash? Did first lady Michelle Obama steal the show?
No, yes, and yes. That’s what it seems from the report of pool journalists who accompanied the president, in any case. We can’t write from personal experience because due to a postal glitch our personal invite went to Meryl Streep instead.
But George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy, and the ghosts of Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant weren’t there. Bravo’s Andy Cohen was. In other words, there weren’t lots of people so famous that average voters would be able to identify them on sight.
The pool reporter, who probably does not read Vogue as if it were Mike Allen’s Playbook (that’s an inside reporter joke), was not sure who many of the people seated at the two long tables in Ms. Parker’s brownstone were.
“There were many attractive people seated at the tables, but your pooler sadly did not recognize them,” they wrote.
Still, 50 guests at $40,000 each can produce a lot of cash, even if they haven’t all done "Today Show" guest spots. Do the math, and you get a sum of ... worth the Obamas' time.
But reading between the lines of the pool report, it seems to us that the real star of the evening was Mrs. Obama.
Here’s how the actress who played Carrie Bradshaw welcomed her. “It is a great, a rare, a very special and I’m assuming a singular treat to welcome you into our home – our radiant, our extraordinary first lady,” said Ms. Parker, gesturing toward Mrs. Obama, who was seated next to her.
Only then did she turn to Mrs. Obama’s husband, calling him the “beloved current and future president of the United States.”
Of course, the whole setup was tilted in Mrs. Obama’s favor – one co-host edits a fashion magazine, the other plays a character who loves shoes. That’s not an NBA playoff-watching demographic.
Parker noted that her husband, Matthew Broderick, was absent, for instance, saying he had to perform in a show. As if. We’d wager that he and Joe Biden were in the basement man cave playing darts and watching the Mets.
Anyway, Republicans have been criticizing this event, saying that it shows how out of touch Obama is. He’s acting all celebrity-in-chief at a time when the US needs a chief-executive-in-chief. Or something like that.
Conservatives made fun of the president for talking about his plans for the middle class (“Still a lot of people hurting out there,” said Obama) in front of a group of folks who mingle with the middle class only when it’s serving them dinner.
Today is Flag Day 2012. Flag Day, June 14, commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the US flag by the Continental Congress in 1777. It’s celebrated across the nation by ordinary citizens hanging out their red-white-and-blue Stars and Stripes. President Harry Truman made sure of that in 1949 when he signed a congressional resolution setting June 14 as Flag Day’s official date. But it is not a full-blown federal holiday. Why is that?
The short answer is that Flag Day was not included in the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act. This legislation set the framework for the 11 official federal holidays and multiple three-day weekends that US workers (and mattress discounters, new car dealers, and other sale-oriented retailers) know and love today.
The longer answer is that Flag Day is a bit of an orphan holiday. It does not have the historical cachet of Washington’s Birthday. (No, that February day off is not a federal “Presidents’ Day.” Look it up.) Nor does it have the backing of organized interest groups that helped produce Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Here’s our take on some of the headwinds Flag Day faced, importance-wise:
June 14 is almost midway between Memorial Day and July 4. That’s a lot of red, white, and blue in a six-week period. Besides being the middle in this patriotic sandwich, Flag Day falls at a time when kids get out of school, and summer plans truly start. Running up Old Glory is a task that can get bypassed if you’ve just spent two hours looking for junior’s goggles so you can go to the pool.
Every day is Flag Day
To some extent Americans aren’t in a period when they need to be reminded of the flag’s significance. Flag Day first took hold as a local event at the beginning of the Civil War, when the North needed a symbol around which to rally. It rose in popularity during the World Wars, for the same reason. Right now the US is at the tail end of a long involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The struggle against Al Qaeda has been going on for years. Flags came out on 9/11 and in many cases have stayed out. Think of all the highway overpasses bedecked with small flags and tended by local veterans’ groups.
It's the people's symbol
The US flag does not represent federal Washington. It does not represent the power of the state. It represents the assembly of citizens into a government of them, by them, and for them. The citizens of no other nation on earth fly their flags everywhere they live and go, according to Marc Leepson, author of the 2005 book “Flag: An American Biography.”
Thus federal and state legislators have not been instrumental in the flag’s evolution, according to Mr. Leepson.
“By and large it has been individual American businessmen, teachers, journalists, politicians and private organizations – primary but not exclusively veterans’ groups and patriotic organizations – that have developed and pushed for many of the important changes in the evolution of the flag’s cultural importance,” Leepson writes.
President Obama will give a big speech on the economy Thursday during a campaign stop in Ohio. He’s given lots of big speeches on the economy in the past, though. What’s he trying to accomplish with this one in particular?
“Oh come on,” I hear you saying, “that’s what elections are, right? They’re a choice between alternatives. We’re not North Korea.”
Well yes, strictly speaking. But presidential reelection campaigns often come across more as a referendum on the performance of the incumbent then as a choice between two visions of the future. Listen to Mitt Romney speak over a period of time, and you’ll hear him framing the election in pretty much that manner. He’s saying in essence that Obama has had his chance, and look how that turned out. Why not try somebody else?
The classic example of this approach was Ronald Reagan in 1980, when he hammered an incumbent Jimmy Carter by asking Americans if they felt they were “better off than they were four years ago” when Carter took office. Romney does the same thing, although he generally uses more words.
“If you look at [Obama’s] record over the last 3-1/2 years, you will conclude, as I have, that it is the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history,” charged Romney Wednesday in a speech at the Business Roundtable in Washington.
The former Massachusetts governor undoubtedly will be hitting the same theme when he gives a competing speech today in Ohio at about the same time Obama goes on. (There’s counter-programming for you.)
Incumbents, on the other hand, generally want the election to be framed in a larger context. They want to explain the difficulties inherent in governing and point out that the person who wants to replace them might not better. In fact, they might do worse. That’s a more complicated political task.
Obama made this point Wednesday night at a fundraiser at the Planetarium in Philadelphia.
“The question in this election is going to be whose vision is most likely to lead us back to a point where economic growth is strong and is steady and is broad-based,” said Obama.
One contextual point Obama is almost certain to make is that the economy was already in bad shape when he took office. Polls show that argument still resonates with many voters.
A new Gallup survey shows that 68 percent of Americans still give George W. Bush at least a moderate amount of blame for the current state of the US economy. The corresponding figure for President Obama is 52 percent.
“This suggests that Obama’s argument that he is on the right track and needs more time to turn the economy around could fall on receptive ears, particularly those of independents,” writes Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport.
Obama will attempt to portray himself as the defender of the middle class, while saying that Romney favors the rich, and would take the US back to the Bush presidency, which ended with an economic thud.
That’s easier said than done, of course. But it’s a reset that many of Obama’s most restive Democratic supporters are urging the campaign to try and undertake. As a memo from Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg argued earlier this week, Obama needs to focus on the future and how he’ll help the middle class going forward, rather than bog down defending his actions of the last four years.
“We will face an impossible headwind if we do not move to a new narrative,” the pair wrote.
Why is Israeli President Shimon Peres receiving the US Presidential Medal of Freedom? In asking this, we’re not questioning whether Mr. Peres deserves accolades for his lengthy Mideast career. He’s already won the Nobel Peace Prize, after all. We’re wondering about the propriety of giving America’s highest civilian award to a foreign leader. Is that a common occurrence?
Well, it turns out it doesn’t happen every year, but it’s not exactly a rare thing. American presidents have bestowed the Medal of Freedom on at least 16 foreign heads of state or of government. Past notable winners include Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat (awarded posthumously in 1984), Britain’s Margaret Thatcher (1991), South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (2002), Czech leader Vaclav Havel (2003), and Germany’s Angela Merkel (2011).
The US Presidential Medal of Freedom is not meant to recognize service to the US, per se. Under an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, those eligible for the Medal of Freedom include “any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
As we’ve noted before, the bottom line of those criteria is that the medal can go to pretty much anyone who’s accomplished anything the US president likes.
Peres in particular is one of Israel’s founding leaders, and as such his award is meant to celebrate the ties between the two nations as well as his individual contributions.
Of course, Israel isn’t popular with everybody in the US, so Peres’ award has engendered some controversy. Comedian/activist Roseanne Barr, for instance, added one word, “protest,” in a retweet of an announcement of tonight’s ceremony.
But two-time Israeli Prime Minister Peres, now 88, has evolved into something of a Mideast elder statesman. As Israeli president – a largely ceremonial post – he has become more popular in his home country than he was when he held more powerful political posts.
And he’s not coming to the White House empty-handed. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, he’s bringing gifts: a letter from Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, urging President Harry Truman to recognize Israel; a letter from President Truman to Israel doing just that; and a letter back to Truman from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, thanking him for that recognition.
Michelle Obama has joined the social media photo-sharing website Pinterest. On Wednesday morning she pinned 12 images on the service, grouped in three categories: “Around the White House,” “Great Memories,” and “Father’s Day.” Or rather, she pinned eight of the images, and the Obama reelection campaign put up the rest. The Obama 2012 staff is going to run the site with Mrs. Obama’s input. Her personal pins will be signed with her initials, “mo.”
Some of the pictures are standard publicity fare. There is Mrs. Obama winning a tug-of-war with talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, while a portrait of George Washington looks on. There's Mrs. Obama digging up what appear to be peppers from the White House garden. There’s the Obama family’s official 2011 portrait.
But there is also some stuff that might come under the heading of pretty personal blasts-from-the-past. There’s a photo from 1992 of the future first lady hugging the future president, her eyes on the camera, his staring off... somewhere. So young, they look. In the Father’s Day category there’s a rare shot of the couple kissing, and a miniature-golf action shot.
What’s Mrs. Obama doing, joining Pinterest now? Keeping up with Ann Romney, for one thing. Mrs. Romney has been on the site for a while, and has a nice, homey pinboard that’s heavy on recipes (Meat loaf cake? What’s that?), flag shots, and family photos.
The current first lady is also just augmenting her overall social media push. She’s got more than 1 million followers on Twitter (Her latest tweet: a twitpic of a sacked-out Bo) and 7 million “likes” on Facebook.
But what’s really behind all this is the effort by Obama’s reelection team to leverage the first lady’s popularity as much as possible as early as possible in the 2012 race. It’s a multipronged strategy: social media, her new book about the White House gardening and healthy eating, and traditional media appearances pegged to the book’s publication.
Oh, you thought it was just a coincidence that “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America” came out about the time the GOP picked its nominee and the general election began? Toughen up – the campaign’s just getting started.
Remember, Mrs. Obama’s poll numbers are much better than her husband’s. An April Marist survey found that 65 percent of registered voters had a positive view of the first lady, for instance. Only 23 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
“The first lady may be the president’s best asset,” said Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, when the poll came out. “With numbers like these, expect her to have a high profile on the campaign trail.”
Voilà, Pinterest. The Father’s Day category on her new pinboard invites viewers to sign a Father’s Day card for the president. Click through, and it further invites you to contribute to the campaign.
With both sides eschewing public financing for the fall campaign, they are in a dollars race to amass enough cash to counter the other guy’s message. Expect more of the same, from both sides, in months to come.
We ask that question because Congressman Paul’s campaign website in recent days has posted several pieces that discuss political endorsements in a somewhat defensive manner. In one, campaign blogger Jack Hunter talks about libertarian founding father Murray Rothbard’s 1992 endorsement of President George H. W. Bush.
Rothbard’s libertarian principles did not evaporate because of the “mere act of endorsing,” writes Hunter.
As to the current Paul campaign, “any endorsements made or not made are done with our movement’s goals and efforts within the GOP in mind, whether some understand this or not,” according to Hunter.
That did not mean Paul shared these lawmakers’ political beliefs. Their elections as speaker were inevitable, writes Hunter, and Paul wanted to work within the Republican Party to push his own issues.
“Ron Paul is a member in good standing of the Republican Party. Ron Paul’s message is that he is against his party when it’s wrong,” writes Hunter.
Of course, both these pieces might really be about son Sen. Rand Paul, not Paul pere himself. The second in particular mentions Rand at length.
Senator Paul endorsed Romney in an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last week – a move that infuriated many Paul true believers. They burned up Twitter and Paul discussion boards with anger over what they saw as a betrayal.
Given that Rand’s dad technically is still running for president, the timing of the announcement indeed was a little ... odd. So was the manner in which Senator Paul implied that the announcement was some sort of joining of the Paul and Romney clans. He talked about “a kinship between our families.”
The Ron Paul campaign appeared taken aback by the degree of supporter animosity to this move. So Hunter’s works might be an attempt to calm those roiling digital waters.
Plus, a Ron Paul endorsement of Romney would be out of step with much of Paul’s past behavior. He famously refused to endorse Sen. John McCain in 2008, and bolted the party entirely in 1987, running as a third party candidate on the Libertarian ticket. We still think it’s likely that Paul senior will just strike a sort of non-aggression pact with the Romney forces that does not include explicit backing. Rand’s endorsement might have been as far as the Paul team is willing to go.
But look – Mitt Romney is going to control the GOP convention in Tampa. In the modern era nominees meld their campaigns with the party apparatus prior to the meeting, then treat it like an opportunity for a multi-day advertisement. It’s not primarily a forum for political debate.
Will Romney demand a Paul endorsement in return for, say, allowing Paul a prime speaking slot? That’s certainly possible. In return, Paul could just state the obvious – Romney is the GOP pick, and he (Paul) would prefer Romney triumph over President Obama. That could be an endorsement that doesn’t contain the word “endorse.”
Does Mitt Romney want to reduce the number of firefighters, police, and teachers in America? That’s what the Obama reelection campaign is charging. They’ve got a new ad out that asserts local government jobs shrank dramatically in Massachusetts while Mr. Romney was governor, and that he plans similar reductions if he wins in November.
“Mitt Romney’s economic plan? He wants to cut jobs for firefighters, police, and teachers,” says the campaign spot.
Romney’s not turning the other cheek on this one. On Tuesday, Romney said in a Fox News appearance that this charge is “completely absurd.”
Hmmm. The two sides are pretty far apart on this question. Who is right here? What’s the context?
We’d say this: A Romney statement this week did imply that he believes the nation needs fewer of these particular categories of public servants. But the comment might be better understood as a variation on the continuing Republican theme that government as a whole needs to be smaller and less intrusive in US life.
First, the original statement: At a campaign stop last Friday Romney seized on President Obama’s controversial statement that the private sector is “fine” and that employment as a whole is soft because public sector jobs are down.
Romney said of Mr. Obama that “he says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
Generally speaking, Republicans are for smaller government at all levels. But they don’t typically move on to imply that the nation needs fewer of its more popular types of public servants – particularly those involved in public safety.
Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who just survived a recall attempt sparked by his bill that stripped many public sector workers of bargaining rights, made just that distinction. Police and firefighters were exempt from his cutbacks.
That’s why Governor Walker distanced himself from Romney’s remarks in an appearance Sunday on CBS’s "Face the Nation." His crackdown “allowed us to protect firefighters, police officers, and teachers. That’s not what I think of when I think of big government.”
Now, Romney is literally correct to say that Washington doesn’t hire firefighters, etc. Those are local or state employees.
But Obama’s stimulus bills contained billions in subsidies for state and local government to keep their employees on the job. Much of that stimulus spending has run out, which is one reason why public sector employment is declining.
That’s what we think this whole economic discussion of recent days is mostly about. Obama would prefer that Congress pass more stimulus spending to help heat up public sector hiring. Romney thinks that is failed Keynesianism that just runs up debt. This is a basic distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties.
In closing, we’ll make a couple of other points. Walker may not think of firefighters, police officers, and teachers as part of big government, but they are. As liberal economist Paul Krugman pointed out Tuesday on his blog, “teachers” and “protective services” together account for the majority of state and local employment.
However, despite public sector job losses, the unemployment rate for government workers is low, writes conservative American Enterprise Institute fellow Marc Thiessen. It’s just 4.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Contrast this with the unemployment rate for construction, which is 14.2 percent, or with the rate for leisure and hospitality services, which is 9.7 percent.
Message to President Obama: Stop saying the economy is improving. People don't believe you.
That's the gist of a new memo from Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg and James Carville, who urge Mr. Obama to focus on the future – and what he will do to help the middle class going forward – rather than try to talk up what he's been doing for the past four years.
"We will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative," they write, adding: "It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance – and therefore must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail."
While the timing of the memo's release is probably a coincidence, it just happens to come on the heels of Obama's much-discussed remark last Friday that the private sector is "doing fine." Republicans naturally pounced on that comment – Mitt Romney's campaign immediately turned it into a derisive web video – forcing Obama to later clarify that "it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine."
Still, it's a striking bit of advice. Top Democrats are essentially telling Obama to stop trying to defend his record on the economy, because voters aren't buying it. As they put it: "[Voters] know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle – and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool's errand."
The question is, is this really possible? Can Obama look the electorate in the eye, admit that he knows the economy is terrible and the future looks frightening – and yet somehow convince them he deserves another four years?
It may be a stretch. But at this point, he may have no other choice. Ever since the dismal May jobs report, it's been increasingly clear that this anemic recovery may be flat-out un-spinnable. The grim economic news continued Monday with a report from the Federal Reserve that Americans' median net worth shrank from $126,000 in 2007 to $77,000 in 2010.
And while the faltering economy may ultimately doom the president no matter what, there's probably no upside to trying to make things sound better than they are and coming across as "out of touch" (see: Bush, George H. W.).
Still, Obama will also need to make a couple other arguments for this strategy to work.
First, he will need voters to continue to blame the recession on past administrations and past policies – which polls show most voters still do. As long as the public doesn't think Obama is responsible for creating the economic mess, he may have more latitude when it comes to describing current conditions honestly.
More importantly, however, Obama will also need to disqualify Mr. Romney. If the argument to the electorate is essentially, we're in a big, terrible hole, and it's probably going to take a while for us to get out – then Obama needs to make sure the public doesn't buy Romney's argument that he could turn things around more quickly.
That's why the Obama campaign is continuing to pound Romney's record as Massachusetts governor. A new ad today attacks Romney for making Massachusetts "No. 1 in state debt" and "47th in job creation."
The danger, of course, is that the voters will wind up seeing the choice as a lesser-of-two-evils, "without much feeling of hope," as Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Carville write.
They argue that Obama can actually provide that sense of hope once more by focusing on the future and what he will do for the middle class. If he can do that, it would be a truly impressive political feat. But if he can't, it may be a lesser-of-two-evils campaign.