Judging by buzz from Democrats, President Obama's economic speech today will hit an old theme: "the failed policies of the past."
Unable to defend his record ($15.7 trillion in federal debt, with 8.2 percent unemployment to go with it), Obama will attack. He will shift the blame to Bush, to deregulation, to the anarchy that supposedly reigned in America before he took office and restored sensible government oversight of the economy. Electing Romney will simply return us to that bad old time in which Republicans allowed the rich to prey on the middle class.
Romney should not let himself get trapped in a grand defense of deregulation or of any other specific Republican policy that predated Obama. He should smile and say that the policies of 30, 20, or even 10 years ago are not on trial here. Obama, in fact, had two years in which to implement his economic agenda unrestrained by Republican objections. In that time, he chose to pursue Obamacare, the stimulus, Dodd-Frank, Solyndra, and bailouts of big companies. After voters in 2010 sent him the clear message that they wanted this carnival of spending and government growth to stop, he kept it up. So far (and that's important -- he's not done yet!) Obama has accumulated twice the federal debt in a single term that George W. Bush did in two terms -- even though he told us he'd cut the deficit in half.
This election is not about the policies of the past, it is about the failed policies of the present. It is about the complete failure of this administration to do what the President assured us he would do: restore prosperity through smart, responsible governing.
Then Romney should lay out his plan for doing that and point out not only where it differs from Obama, but where it differs from George W. Bush. This will reassure both independents who voted for Obama in 2008 and are now disillusioned AND the Republican base that Romney will not follow the Bush-Obama path of growing government and its debt, but will chart a new, fiscally responsible path that frees the economy while maintaining a sensible level of needed government oversight.
Even if he shies away from dinging Bush, he should hit this theme repeatedly: It's not about the past, it's about the failed policies of the present. It will force Obama to defend his actions, if not his record, and remind voters that Obama has had years to fix the mess they are in and has not succeeded.