Debate Club

The Tax vs. Penalty Debate Is Distracting Romney

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Mitt Romney may not win the presidency between now and the 60-day sprint, but he could well lose it if he doesn't change tactics. He must stop trying to thread the needle as he initially did on the Obamacare tax/penalty debate. Americans don't care about the minutiae. They want to hear whether he will repeal Obamacare and how or if he will replace it.

The Wall Street Journal is right: "The Romney campaign thinks it can play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it's Mr. Obama's fault."

But this won't work. A quarter of the electorate remains undecided, according to an Associated Press poll. These voters know all about President Obama's handling of the economy. If that was enough to sway their votes, they'd already be in the Romney camp. What they want to hear is a bold vision of the future, one that takes us from where we are now to a better, more prosperous place. The candidate that best articulates this will win in November.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

And it can't be done with platitudes. Romney needs to put more meat on the policy bone. He needs to provide specifics, to show he can get to the heart of the problem. Americans are neither comfortable with the present nor optimistic about the future. They yearn for leadership that sees a way out and will take chances to get us there. They will reject a candidate who tries not to lose rather than to win.

That's why descending into the pit of tax vs. penalty semantics is not the answer. That argument snares both sides, and few outside the beltway know or care who is right or wrong in the dispute. Romney needs to acknowledge he put into place a similar program as governor of Massachusetts but that he can clearly see this won't work on a federal level. He must reassert he will work for its repeal beginning on Day One of his presidency.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Romney is an underdog. As out of touch as President Obama seems to be, he still has the power of the bully pulpit. It's his race to lose unless Romney can present a vision of a better future. The Obama campaign wisely has shifted the burden of educating the voter to Romney. And Romney must embrace this challenge decisively and quickly.

Last time around, Americans voted for "Hope and Change" without details and are not satisfied with what they got. They won't be fooled again. They are demanding a bold, clear vision for the future—one replete with specifics and unafraid of change. And you don't get to that arguing about taxes vs. penalties.

Ford O'Connell

About Ford O'Connell Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst

Romney, Mitt
2012 presidential election
Wall Street Journal

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