The Strawman in the Arena

Andrew Schriver, Apply Liberally

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

It is always astonishing to me to witness someone speak as much as Mitt Romney has done while saying so little. Romney has been quick to jump on the flaws of the Obama administration, while staying remarkably reticent about his own policy specifics. It is unquestionable that the current economic recovery has been anemic, and certainly there have been moments (Solyndra, anyone?) in which the Obama administration has made some serious blunders. However, to simply point out that the current presidency is flawed – something that is obvious, given that it is run by men, rather than gods – accomplishes nothing.

Romney is correct in some of his assertions – two percent GDP growth is certainly nothing to celebrate – but he has consistently failed to point out specifics of how exactly he will improve on the President’s work thus far. A glance at Romney’s vaunted “Five Point Plan” for the economy reveals that it is rife with such gems as “Open new markets for American goods and services” and “Replace Obamacare with real healthcare reform that controls cost and improves care.” His website also pulls out impressive numbers, such as “7 million jobs created” (already down from the 12 million he claimed he was going to create on Tuesday), without any explanation of where those jobs come from.

In case you’re wondering, that’s all there is. No explanation, no plan, no breakdown. In other words: platitudes, not substance. The plan might as well read “Obtain more money.” (As an aside – 12 million new jobs over four years works out to 250,000 per month, not substantially more than the current rate, no different from the current projections for the next four years, and far short of what the Five Point Plan claims is a “normal” recovery, whatever that means.)

The fact that Romney has gotten so much mileage out of so little is troubling, both politically and intellectually. Certainly, president Obama is not the most popular guy in town. Still, for the American people to accept Romney’s blithe assertions that he will succeed at revitalizing the economy, despite his utter lack of details about how exactly that will happen, does not speak well to the judgment of the electorate. A similar farce played out regarding the tragedy in Libya.

President Obama delivered perhaps the most devastating line of Tuesday’s debate when Romney accused the State Department of lying about the attack. “The suggestion that anybody on my team…would play politics and mislead, when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.” And indeed it is. The Romney campaign seems to be entirely based around the premise that if all we do is criticize the other guy’s policies, maybe no one will actually think to ask what ours are. This may be good politics in this moment, but it is terrible policy. To paraphrase another one-liner from the president during the debate – if someone comes up to you asking to invest in their idea, which they claim will bring huge returns, but without any explanation of what their idea actually entails…you’d have to be an idiot to give them a dime. It’s tremendously easy to stand on the sidelines, jabbing and poking and criticizing. It’s something else entirely to take ownership of the situation, come up with a coherent plan, and execute it. If you’re comfortable voting in a president and finding out later what his plans are, then by all means vote for Romney. I just hope that it’s a pleasant surprise.