Doc Cleveland: Advice From Actors To Academics
I was actually a little embarassed for Talkingpointsmemo when I read its kind of breathless coverage of Obama stating the obvious fact that he "wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth." TPM's editors seemed to think this was some sort of Oscar Wildean bon mot or Mencken-style broadside worth repeating.
It's a fine thing for Obama to say, though I wish he'd avoid cliche when he does it. Everybody knows that Obama is self-made and that Romney's dad was a business executive and the former Governor of Michigan.
This is a country that twice elected a guy who's father was President, head of the CIA, and son to a well-regarded Senator who was heir to a Wall Street fortune so maybe we shouldn't hang our hats too much on, "Romney is rich." This is a country that loved the Kennedys, where nepotism ran wild for generations. This is a country where Chelsea Clinton gets a primetime journalism job that many of her better qualified peers would have killed for, and nobody complains until she proves to be really bad at it (and even then, she's not just fired the way a mortal would be fired).
So, Romney responded to Obama's attack by basically saying, "well, my father was self-made," which TPM presents as some sort of major gaffe because, well... I'm not sure why. It's not a great answer since Obama was talking about Mitt, not his father. It beats the honest answer that must be going through Mitt's mind, which is that he's made orders of magnitude more money than his father ever did and that other people who have had Mitt's leg up have rarely made such prosperous use of it. George W. Bush had way more advantages than Mitt did and his business record is an embarrassment of old money bailouts.
Attacking Mitt's wealth makes sense in so far as he can be revealed as an out of touch wannabe technocrat who lacks both core beliefs and empathy and who is so consumed with ambition for power that he's trying to put one over on Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.
Part of this post is about what's happened to TPM, which seems poised to report every campaign related utterance with the kind of criticism-free enthusiasm that makes me hate campaign time. But, setting Josh and company aside, this is also about how Obama should handle the wealth issue. I think he has to be more creative than the "silver spoon," jab. There's a place for calling Mitt rich and out of touch and there's a place for examining how he got his money, who suffered for it, and how little he's paid in taxes.
But the real good stuff comes not from calling Mitt rich. It comes from letting Mitt be Mitt and putting him in situations where he lets us know that he's not too concerned about the really poor because we have programs in place to help them.
It's early in the season. The country isn't paying much attention yet. I'm sure the good stuff is being saved for later. But let's not get too excited about the weak opening salvos. Mitt's rich. We get it. Now make him explain Paul Ryan's budget in plain English. That's where he'll reveal it himself, which will be far more effective than name calling.