Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had some good moments in last night’s debate, but this was Romney’s best of the 90-minute event. Until Romney took up this argument, the issue of the middle class hadn’t been broached, which gave Romney an opening to define the parameters of that debate — and he went right to the data to do it. Without explicitly mentioning Joe Biden, Romney twice agreed with the VP that the middle class had been “buried” over the last four years:
“I think you know better. I think you know that these last four years haven’t been so good as the President just described and that you don’t feel like you’re confident that the next four years are going to be much better either.
“I can tell you that if you were to elect President Obama, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a repeat of the last four years. We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.
“He said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work.
“I wasn’t the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the President’s plan. Didn’t get there.
“He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security, because he pointed out they’re on the road to bankruptcy. He would reform them. He’d get that done. He hasn’t even made a proposal on either one.
“He said in his first year he’d put out an immigration plan that would deal with our immigration challenges. Didn’t even file it.
“This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he’d do. He said that he’d cut in half the deficit. He hasn’t done that either. In fact, he doubled it. He said that by now middle-income families would have a reduction in their health insurance premiums by $2,500 a year. It’s gone up by $2,500 a year. And if Obamacare is passed, or implemented — it’s already been passed — if it’s implemented fully, it’ll be another $2,500 on top.
“The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, ‘Look, I’ve created 5 million jobs.’ That’s after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country. The unemployment, the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans.
“There are more people in poverty, one out of six people in poverty.
“How about food stamps? When he took office, 32 million people were on food stamps. Today, 47 million people are on food stamps. How about the growth of the economy? It’s growing more slowly this year than last year, and more slowly last year than the year before.
“The President wants to do well. I understand. But the policies he’s put in place from Obamacare to Dodd-Frank to his tax policies to his regulatory policies, these policies combined have not let this economy take off and grow like it could have.
“You might say, ‘Well, you got an example of one that worked better?’ Yeah, in the Reagan recession where unemployment hit 10.8 percent, between that period — the end of that recession and the equivalent period of time to today, Ronald Reagan’s recovery created twice as many jobs as this president’s recovery. Five million jobs doesn’t even keep up with our population growth. And the only reason the unemployment rate seems a little lower today is because of all the people that have dropped out of the workforce.
“The President has tried, but his policies haven’t worked. He’s great as a speaker and describing his plans and his vision. That’s wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn’t been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need. Median income is down $4,300 a family and 23 million Americans out of work. That’s what this election is about. It’s about who can get the middle class in this country a bright and prosperous future and assure our kids the kind of hope and optimism they deserve.”
This is the heart of the matter, and the most effective attack on Barack Obama’s perceived strength. The recovery has actually been worse for the middle class than the recession, thanks to Obamanomics. Those figures that Romney cited are both accurate and devastating.
Small wonder that Obama won’t discuss his record or an agenda for a second term, but instead wants to conduct class warfare, as he did throughout much of the debate when he attacked Romney’s wealth and success. That will play well with the base, but those working- and middle-class voters who have watched their economic position rapidly eroding during a succession of “Recovery Summers” can’t help but wonder why Obama isn’t talking about his own plans to reverse that trend. “Stay the course” looks like a recipe for disaster among this group.
Romney revisited this in his closing statement in the debate, but this has to be the closing statement every day for the next three weeks. As Alec Baldwin said in Glengarry Glen Ross, always be closing. And in this case, second place isn’t the set of steak knives — it’s “you’re fired” (not safe for work!):
Those middle class voters are just waiting for someone other than Obama to take their votes. Romney has to reach out and take them.