Romney’s Bizarre “Failure” Meme

Although the primary focus of this blog is policy and language, there’s one aspect of this year’s presidential race deserves some exploration because of its intersection of politics and speech. In a campaign, it seems, anything goes: mere half-truths are about the best that the American people can hope for, and direct lies are tolerated to a degree that would shock anyone who’s ever had to undergo a peer review process.

With that in mind, the constant use of the word “failure” in the Romney campaign stands out as a particularly egregious falsehood. There are, if you care to engage in brisk public debate, plenty of areas where Romeny and President Obama could legitimately clash. I believe that these areas group largely around the question of “good policy”: was the bailout a good deal for taxpayers? Will healthcare reform create a desirable system? If Romney wants to be seen as an adult player in the political system, making the case that these policy moves were not in the United States’ best interests is his best bet.

Unfortunately, Romney has not chosen the mature statesman’s path, and has instead insisted that the President’s initiatives were “failures.” Surely Romney understands that for any action to be a failure, it must be undertaken with a purpose, and it must fail to meet a quantitative or metrical threshold. A failed policy would resemble, to rehash an old liberal sticking point, former president George W. Bush’s announcement that the mission in Iraq had been accomplished. The implied policy – that the US would be shifting from an occupying force to an adviser on matters of defense, economics, and democracy – clearly failed, as evidenced by four years of civil war and American casualties following the announcement.
Obama’s policies, on the other hand, have been by any metric remarkably successful, which makes Romney VP hopeful Rob Portman’s contention that Obama has “no record to run on” particularly baffling. Economists agree that the stimulus and the bank bailouts created jobs and saved others from being cut. (Here, Romney could argue that there were other, better ways to create and/or save jobs.) The PPACA was upheld by the Supreme Court and is projected to save money and reduce the rolls of the uninsured even after the invalidation of the Medicaid expansion portion of the law. And, of course, Osama Bin Ladin is dead, and Stuxnet and Flame have wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.

If Romney wants to claim that, in the long run, the president’s policies won’t be best for America, and that his will, that’s his prerogative. But he should refrain from claiming both that Obama hasn’t done anything and that what Obama has done has been bungled. It makes him look – Romney’s eternal problem! – completely out of touch.


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