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The Narrative Gap

In the middle of a relentless beating from negative ads by President Barack Obama' campaign, Mitt Romney seemed to regain his footing last week when he hit back after the president belittled the achievements of people who built their own businesses. It was the first time in months that the Romney campaign managed to land a blow against Obama in a campaign where the candidates appear to be locked in a dead heat. But that counterattack, unlike the attacks on Romney from Obama, is not part of any single over-arching theme. The result is a narrative gap in which the Obama campaign maintains a distinct advantage.


Obama's attacks on Romney provide voters with a narrative -- that is, a three-dimensional explanation and rationale -- for the specific charges made against Romney. The argument is that Romney is the very source of America's economic problems: He's a rich businessman who outsources jobs; he has secret, offshore accounts and investments; he won't reveal his income tax returns; he bought companies and laid off workers for his own profit; he wants tax breaks for the rich. Each specific attack on Romney fits into the overall theme that those factors are at the root of America's economic distress.


By contrast, the attacks on Obama from Romney and allied GOP entities lack a coherent thematic narrative. The Romney/GOP line -- that Obama spends too much federal money, that the national debt is worse, and that unemployment has not improved -- lacks context. The Romney campaign has provided no larger context to explain those failed policies. Romney's attacks give voters no narrative into which those different claims can be coherently integrated. Each attack is disconnected from the others. How are Obama's polices on spending, jobs, taxes, and debt connected? This is no time for economic lessons, but for forceful, credible arguments. The Romney campaign needs to explain that Obama's policies come from a single source, which is a philosophical orientation that is far too left-wing -- and therefore dangerous -- for mainstream America. From his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, and his vow to "transform America" to his efforts to flood the U.S. with mass immigration and give work permits to illegal aliens, there is no shortage of factual ammunition. Romney needs only to use it.