What Obama needs to do to win

The Hill OpEd

By Peter Fenn – 04/10/12 07:55 PM ET

On Tuesday morning, as a guest on the Bill Press radio and Current TV show, Bill and I took a very interesting on-air call. At the end of the hour, a man led off stating he was a strong conservative. Bill and I thought, “Here it comes!”

Instead of reading us the riot act, this caller explained he really liked and appreciated the way progressives were talking about fairness in the tax system, standing up for the middle class and contrasting our policies with those of the Republicans and Mitt Romney. He disagreed with us on many things, but this economic argument made sense to him. It was personal.


This election is going to be about who really fights for the middle class, whose policies and perspectives identify with Americans caught in the economic vise of the past decade and who can help improve their lives now and in the future.The latest Washington Post-ABC poll shows President Obama leading on “protecting the middle class” by 49-39 percent. It should be more. The poll indicates that Obama “understands the economic problems people are having” by 49-37 percent over Romney. It should be more.

Yet this poll also shows Romney leading Obama, 47-43 percent, on “handling the economy.” The predisposition in tough economic times, as candidate Obama discovered in 2008, is for change, especially “change we can believe in.”

Right now, voters do believe in Obama over Romney, but the full force of Karl Rove’s Crossroads media onslaught has not been felt yet in the dozen targeted states. Now that Santorum has effectively withdrawn, the Romney machine will begin to direct its fire at Obama. This deluge of negative ads has already been telegraphed, and they will begin immediately and will be not confined to the fall campaign.

My prediction is that Romney will run very few positive ads, just as in the primaries; that his team understands his severe vulnerabilities; and that it will try and do to Obama what it has done to Gingrich and Santorum — eviscerate him.

The Obama campaign has the upper hand on the economic fairness argument. It has to make the campaign clearly about who is in the trenches with hardworking middle-class families and who stands with those in the millionaire boys club.

Romney has locked himself into a tax plan of his own, as well as the Paul Ryan plan he endorsed, which creates even more of a windfall for the fabulously wealthy. It severely harms the middle class, adds $10 trillion to the deficit and would undermine programs such as Medicare, education and veteran assistance.

The contrast could not be clearer: According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s tax plan gives the top1 percent an additional break of $149,977, while the lowest one-fifth of wage earners would owe $143 more in taxes. Under Obama, millionaires would see their tax breaks halted and the top 1 percent would pay on average about $87,173 more a year. Thus the Bush “temporary” windfall tax break for them would end.

What is also relevant here is Romney’s personal attitude toward fairness. He believes it is fair that he pays only 13.9 percent in taxes; he believes it is fair that he can put his money in Cayman Islands and Swiss banks to avoid taxes; he believes it is fair that the now-infamous “carried interest” tax rate of 15 percent on new income can be applied to his $7.4 million windfall in 2010; he believes it is fair that he does not have to disclose his Bain Capital investments or that he need not release details of how he avoids paying his fair share; he believes it is fair that no tax returns prior to 2010 be released.

This is personal. When you are a middle-class American making $60,000 a year and paying 29.9 percent of your income in taxes, and you have Mitt Romney, who makes $41 million over two years and pays less than half that percentage in taxes, it is personal.

It is personal to Warren Buffett and many others who decry that their secretaries pay a higher percentage than they do. They care about fairness.

It was personal to Ronald Reagan, who, in two strong videos, made statements advocating for closing loopholes that make bus drivers pay a higher percentage than millionaires and even used the same boss/secretary comparison.

This is the personal fight Barack Obama needs to take to the American people.