I keep thinking back to that first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I, along with everyone else who watched, was surprised by how laid back and enervated President Obama acted at that first debate. Because I couldn’t sleep until I had analyzed the situation to my satisfaction, I eventually realized what it was that bothered me and also, perhaps Obama. Mitt Romney began his strategy, which he has now pursued straight through the rest of his campaign and that strategy was and is to co-opt the centrist policies of his opponent and pretend that he originated these policies and that he never, ever took that giant hook to the right which ended when someone ‘outed’ the tape of him disowning the 47% of Americans who have been victimized by “big government”.
He suddenly reassured us that he did not intend to dismantle the safety net (even though he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate), but only to strengthen it. He assured us that when he ended the Affordable Care Act by decimating it, people with pre-existing conditions (well, most of them) would still be covered under his plan , which never mentions ‘vouchers’, but does talk about making health care the province of the states and which is a plan he does not really explain in any detail. So, in a sense, he co-opts Obama’s health plan by keeping the provision that appeals most to Americans. He tells us that although he will not raise taxes on the wealthy, he will not raise taxes on the middle class either; and he will close some unspecified loopholes. This is not what Obama has said, but isn’t what Paul Ryan has said either. Romney did not make it sound like we were all being sent to the principal’s office as Paul Ryan always does.
He tells us he is pro-life (anti-abortion), but that he does not know of any laws that are pending that will change the current status of women’s health issues (and what does that mean). He still promises to defund Planned Parenthood, and PBS, but Obama knows that we understand that he will also have to make budget cuts. Now Mitt Romney has reinvented himself as Barack Obama in 2008 and he has co-opted the “Big Change” message that Obama ran on and which people say is the source of their greatest disappointment in Obama. So Romney tells us that Obama couldn’t do it; he couldn’t make big changes, but he, Romney, can. Well, if he is elected and the House is still in Republican hands maybe he can push through his changes, but they won’t look at all like what Obama’s changes would be. He will have to take that right hook again and what he does will be what the self-styled “young guns” and the “tea party” want.
No wonder Obama looked so shell-shocked at that first debate. Romney practically turned himself into a clone of Obama. How do you fight yourself? All the arguments prepared for answering a right wing nut were nullified; all Obama’s weapons were de-weaponized. Romney has continued to sound more moderate or centrist by the day and I can’t see why we would go to all the bother of switching Presidents when the only difference Romney seems to stick to is that he still will not raise taxes on the richest Americans. Co-opting his opponent’s arguments has seemed to work well for Romney and that is why it may be the best propaganda technique of all. Let’s hope it will not be good enough to get him elected.