Friendly reminder from Obama: This is a choice election, not a referendum on my performance; Update: New Obama ad responds to "you didn't build that" criticism

He’s right, it is a choice election. First choice: Eight percent unemployment and catastrophic deficits. Second choice: Something different from that. Monty, I’ll stick with what’s behind door number two.

I learned two important things here. First, the cause of our current “mess” was apparently a “top-down approach” to wealth creation, not the widespread, hugely irresponsible practice of banks making subprime loans to homeowners who couldn’t afford their mortgages. See Guy Benson for more on that. Second, as Guy also notes, Obama’s obviously starting to worry about what all the anti-Bain nastiness is doing to his image as the Lightbringer. (With good reason.) This spot is solidly upbeat, a shot of Hopenchange sweetness vintage 2008 straight from O’s lips while Axelrod and crew prepare the next sh*t-pelting of Romney. It’s always been Bambi’s M.O. to stay “above the fray” while his surrogates do his dirty work, but this year the contrast is unusually stark. BuzzFeed:

The attacks have accused Romney of possibly committing a “felony” (Stephanie Cutter, head of Obama’s communications team); behaving like a “Bond villain in the next James Bond film” (Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the DNC) to suggesting, repeatedly, that there’s something untoward about the way he does his taxes (“he’s taken advantage of every single conceivable tax shelter and loophole that we can see,” per senior campaign advisor David Axelrod).

The bombardment is intended to associate Romney with the Wall Street banksters who drove the economy into the ground. “You can see in the numbers for his character traits that there’s been some damage to him,” claims a senior Obama official. “On the top-line question — on, you know, who would do better on the economy—he’s had some real damage done to him. He used to beat us on that in double digits. And now, you know, in the latest poll, we lead.” According to The Hill, a poll by the Purple Strategies firm found that recent revelations about Romney’s finances made four out of every ten voters think of the ex-governor less favorably than they had before…

Obama’s rhetoric about rejecting “say-anything, do-anything divise politics” are at odds with a strategy that relies on calling his opponent a crook, but this kind of thing is nothing new for campaign honcho Axelrod. “Axelrod’s strategy is always to run unopposed, literally if possible,” says a Democratic insider in Chicago. “He wants to take the opponent out—there’s a long tradition in Illinois of trying to force your opponent off the ballot—and if that doesn’t work, literally, then do whatever needs to be done to destroy him figuratively.”

Romney’s had some real damage done to him on the economy from the Bain attacks? Here’s the hard data, posted just this afternoon, from the Gallup poll I blogged yesterday:

Remember, as Sean Trende pointed out yesterday, despite O’s best efforts to farm the nastiness against Romney out to his associates, he risks losing his huge — and I think important — edge in likability if the public starts thinking of him less in terms of Hopenchange and more as a win-at-all-costs bruiser. That’s what this ad is designed to correct, I suspect: They’ve probably gotten all they can get from the Bain stuff at the moment, so it’s time to go positive and give O lots of face time on camera to personalize his candidacy. That’s been a noticeable hole in Romney’s own pitch thus far; I think it’s part of the reason why that attack ad mocking him for singing “America the Beautiful” is evidently pretty effective. It’s easy to make him look hollow when he hasn’t spent much time fleshing himself out. Expect more ads like this, with The One holding quasi-intimate face-to-face conversations with the viewer, over the next few weeks.

Oh, and before you ask: Yes, this was filmed inside the White House.

Update: Annnnd, right on cue, here’s another face-to-face spot, this time responding to the “you didn’t build that” criticism. Am I right in thinking that O never felt obliged to do a spot like this, clarifying his own comments, back in 2008? He gave his speech on race to try to defuse the Rev. Wright uproar, but he never did an ad directly answering an attack that I can recall, not even after his immortal “bitter-clinger” comments at that lefty fundraiser. Typically the playbook when a pol says something damaging is to let it lie and not extend its media shelf life with a new commercial that dredges it up again in the course of rebutting it. He must be awfully nervous about how “you didn’t build that” is playing with that middle class he claims to care so much about if he feels obliged to do this.

Exit question: O says here that his point in the original “you didn’t build that” comments was that America needs to “stand behind” its small business owners. Is that right? Go re-read what he said in Roanoke. Sure sounded at the time like he was telling them that they owe us, not that we owe them.