In mid-September 2008,
Four years later, mid-September 2012, the U.S. mission in Benghazi went up in flames, as did Obama's entire Middle East policy of apology and accommodation. Obama once again played it cool, effectively ignoring the attack and the regionwide American humiliation. "Bumps in the road," he said.
Obama seems not even to understand what happened. He responded with a groveling address to the U.N. General Assembly that contained no less than six denunciations of a crackpot video, while offering cringe-worthy platitudes about the need for governments to live up to the ideals of the U.N.
The U.N. being an institution of surpassing cynicism and mendacity, the speech was so naive it would have made a fine middle-school commencement address. Instead, it was a plaintive plea by the world's alleged superpower to be treated nicely by a roomful of the most corrupt, repressive, tin-pot regimes on earth.
He issued a two-sentence critique of the initial statement issued by
Two weeks later at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney did make a foreign-policy address. Here was his opportunity. What did he highlight? Reforming foreign aid.
Yes, reforming foreign aid! A worthy topic for a chin-pulling joint luncheon of the League of Women Voters and the Council on Foreign Relations. But as the core of a challenger's major foreign-policy address amid a Lehman-like collapse of the Obama Doctrine?
It makes you think how far ahead Romney would be if he were actually running a campaign. His unwillingness to go big, to go for the larger argument, is simply astonishing.
For six months, he's been matching Obama small ball for small ball. His only momentum came when he chose
When you're behind, however, safe is fatal. Even his counterpunching has gone miniature. Obama has successfully painted Romney as an out-of-touch, unfeeling plutocrat whose only interest is to cut taxes for the rich. Romney has complained in interviews that it's not true. He has proposed cutting tax rates, while pledging that the share of the tax burden paid by the rich remains unchanged (by "broadening the base" as in the wildly successful, revenue-neutral Reagan-O'Neill tax reform of 1986).
But how many people know this? Where is the speech that hammers home precisely that point, advocates a reformed tax code that accelerates growth without letting the rich off the hook, and gives lie to the Obama demagoguery about dismantling the social safety net in order to enrich the rich?
Romney has accumulated tons of cash for 30-second ads. Bu`t unless they're placed on the scaffolding of serious speeches making the larger argument, they will be treated as nothing more than tit for tat.
Make the case. Go large. About a foreign policy in ruins. About an archaic, 20th-century welfare state model that guarantees 21st-century insolvency. And about an alternate vision of an unapologetically assertive America abroad unafraid of fundamental structural change at home.
It might just work. And it's not too late.