The Economy, but Not Just the Economy for Romney
For much of the current election cycle, Governor Mitt Romney's campaign has often seemed to take the economy as its organizing premise, platform, and number-one campaign ad: the poor economy would, so the thinking went, spell doom for President Barack Obama's re-election hopes. Though not in 2008's free fall, the economy has continued to stagger along, with poor employment numbers, mediocre at best growth, and stagnating incomes. Despite this disappointing economic performance, however, Romney has not yet broken into a clear polling lead over the president. Some of the president's post-convention bounce seems to have dissipated, but he still holds a marginal edge in many polls.
This polling edge has caused some concern in various sectors of the right, and some within the Romney campaign seem to be turning to look beyond the economy. Zeke Miller at BuzzFeed suggests that the Romney campaign has decided, in the words of one adviser, that this election cannot "only be about the economy anymore....The economy narrows the gap and puts us in contention, but we have to bring more to the table."
For the Romney campaign, it's important to keep some focus on the present administration's economic failures. These failures suggest the limitations of President Obama's current policies. But when many voters (rightly or wrongly) hold the GOP partly or even principally responsible for the start of the Great Recession, merely highlighting the failures of the present might not be enough. In order to counter the despair of the present with hope for the future, the Romney campaign can highlight policies that would improve the current economic situation. The campaign has outlined some policy steps it might take (such as trade reform and regulatory reform), and it could easily build on these steps.
Most voters understandably have concerns about the economy foremost in their minds, but we should not forget that the economy is not just an isolated problem that ails us; in fact, the poor economy is both a symptom of a broader faltering and a factor that affects other parts of our national enterprise. To wit:
- A weakening economy limits the capacity of the U.S. to project its power across the world. Economic growth powers military might and softer forms of geopolitical influence, so the lack of this growth weakens the U.S.'s hand in international affairs.
- A poor economy pushes the federal government farther toward fiscal insolvency. A huge driver of our current deficits is the terrible economic and employment picture. Moreover, these huge deficits themselves can imperil the economy in the future through weakening the United States' credit and distorting the global market.
- Economic stagnation imperils the dream of upward mobility that has been so central for the American ethos of free-market optimism.
- The hollowing out of the economy leads to fewer opportunities for Americans of diverse talents and abilities. A proliferation of opportunity is good fertilizer for the cultivation of skills and opportunity, so the shredding of opportunities also closes down many horizons.
- The same psychology that has contributed to the current economic stagnation -- that toxic combination of shortsightedness, incompetence, cronyism, self-dealing, regulatory dysfunction, cocoon-like self-righteousness, and vanity -- does more than imperil our pocketbooks; it also troubles so many other enterprises within our nation.
- An increasingly unstable and dissatisfying economic outlook threatens the middle class, the traditional bulwark of republican government, and many civil liberties. Further economic decay may undermine the small-government foundations of this nation.
The economy both reflects broader national trends and shapes these trends. The current economy has led to a troubling feedback loop, where poor growth and employment trigger other conditions and responses that themselves lead to further bad news for the economy as a whole.
It is imperative that we break this loop of disappointment. The Romney campaign can broaden its case by drawing the connections between the economy and other issues. The steps made in restoring the economy could go a long way toward improving other aspects of the American national narrative.
(See also: "The Debt: Another Road to Perdition")