You know what this election cycle needs?  Not more cowbell …. more Carter.  Mitt Romney stayed on offense today in Chantilly, Virginia, and perhaps signaled a theme for the fall campaign. For the second time in three days, Romney referred to Jimmy Carter, this time directly comparing Barack Obama to the former one-term President … unfavorably:

National Journal notices this as well, and also thinks it will become a deliberate strategy to frame the election:

“It was the most anti-small-business administration I’ve seen probably since Carter,” Romney told an overflow crowd packed into the company’s warehouse.  “Who would’ve guessed we’d look back at the Carter years as the good ol’ days, you know?”

On Monday, Romney also referenced the former president when he was asked by a reporter if he would have given the order to go after Osama bin Laden at his Pakistani hideout. “Of course,” Romney replied.  “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”

Romney has invoked the Georgia Democrat before. In February, for example, he called Obama’s administration “the most anti-jobs, anti-investment, antigrowth administration that I’ve seen since Jimmy Carter.”

But now Romney’s surrogates are also playing the Carter card. In an essay last week in Foreign Policy published on Romney’s campaign website, Chicago lawyer Richard Williamson, a former ambassador in the Reagan administration, faulted Obama’s handling of North Korea and Iran. “In short, we are approaching a Jimmy Carter moment,” Williamson wrote. “In a perilous world, this is not the kind of leadership our country needs.”

The retrospective approach isn’t just in vogue at Team Romney, who at least has put forward an agenda for a Romney presidency. In my column for The Week, I point out the irony of the Obama campaign’s new slogan, “Forward,” while the campaign remains mired in rose-colored-glasses nostalgia.  They seem intent on keeping focus on 2008 and the meager list of Obama accomplishments, while determined to avoid talking about an Obama agenda for a second term:

In fact, Obama has yet to talk about why he wants a second term as president. What does Obama plan to do about the budget in 2013? Or 2016, for that matter? His budget proposal for FY2012 couldn’t garner a single Democratic vote in the Senate last May, when Harry Reid finally had to call a floor vote. Obama’s FY2013 proposal didn’t get a single Democratic vote in the House last month. Some Democrats complained that the floor vote was a stunt, but it’s still a fact that Senate Democrats have refused to bring it to the floor themselves, even though they haven’t produced a budget resolution in over three years, despite their legal responsibility to do so. Given the stagnation that the U.S. has experienced, Obama’s team wants to talk about anything else but the economy. His tax reform plan involves a “Buffett Rule” that will raise no more than $5 billion a year for a budget deficit of at least $900 billion in FY2013.

What about foreign policy? Obama has shied away from any substantive agendas, unlike in 2008, when he claimed he would meet America’s enemies “without preconditions” and boost American prestige through “smart power.” While Obama hasn’t shared his vision of foreign policy in a second term with the American public, he seemed less reticent with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in what he thought was a private moment. Telling Medvedev that he has more “flexibility” after the election, Obama assured the Russian president that the missile-defense issue could be “solved,” if only Vladimir Putin would “give me space.” What solution does Obama have for the missile-defense issue? Why hasn’t Obama shared that with the nation as part of his agenda for a second term in office?

Obama hasn’t bothered to articulate any specific agenda for a second term, giving no substantive, forward-looking argument for why anyone should vote for another four years. Instead of forward, Obama’s campaign seems to be looking backward, and hoping voters feel nostalgic enough over the last three-plus years that they don’t bother looking “forward” at all.

That may be because Obama’s second-term agenda would sound a lot like Carter’s, which basically told Americans to deal realistically with decline.  Voters didn’t choose decline in 1980, and I doubt they’ll choose it in 2012.  I’d expect the Carter comparisons to become a major theme in the Romney campaign.