In this July 14, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama holds a campaign rally in Glen Allen, Va. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP, File)
Dear President Obama –
Allow me to be frank: your weakness as a politician is rooted in your weakness as a storyteller.
In the final days of a close campaign, you need a stump speech that doesn’t just recycle your talking points, but tells a bigger, bolder, more hopeful story.
It’s time to go big, Mr. President, or go home.
Respectfully submitted by one of your 50 million or so backseat drivers,
As most of you know, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week overseeing the response to Hurricane Sandy. I spent time with folks whose loved ones were wounded, or missing, whose homes had been destroyed, whose whole neighborhoods were underwater.
At moments like that you look around — not as the president, not as a candidate, just as a human being –and you think: How are these folks ever going to dig out from the wreckage of this misfortune and rebuild their lives?
And the eerie thing, for me, was how familiar that feeling was. I still remember being sworn into office four years ago and thinking to myself: How are we going to rebuild this country?
It’s easy to forget how bad things were back then. People don’t want to remember how frightening it all was. Our financial system was in free fall. The private sector had lost more than three million jobs in six months. Our troops were still dying overseas in two wars. Our debt had exploded. Our auto industry was on the brink of collapse. It was as if a terrible storm had ravaged this country.
But the crisis back then was not an act of God. It was a man-made disaster, caused by greed and hubris, by bad values that bred bad policies, by special interests who recast government not as a force for good in the lives of ordinary citizens, but as the paid custodians of their obscene wealth.
That’s what we were up against then — and that is what we are up against now: the smallness of men’s hearts, their refusal to regard the suffering of another as a moral event that involves them.
I believe that Governor Romney and his running mate want to help America grow stronger. But it’s not enough to make a sales pitch: “I’ll create 12 million jobs!” “I’ll balance the budget!” “I’ll be a compassionate conservative!” You can’t sell hope like it’s hair tonic.
If you propose to cut $5 trillion in taxes, you owe it to voters to tell them what loopholes you’re going to close to pay for it. If a woman asks you point-blank about abortion rights or equal pay, you owe her a straight answer. And if your plan is to gut Medicaid and voucherize Medicare, you owe sick kids and veterans and senior citizens the truth about that.
The whole purpose of a campaign is to tell the American people who you are and what you want to do as president, not to hide your policies behind a smoke-screen of counterfeit empathy and deceptive advertising and hope they won’t notice them until you’re elected.
That’s not leadership, it’s salesmanship.
There is one thing on which Governor Romney and I agree without question: I do have a record. The governor has made it a habit to imply that I’m somehow running from it. So let me set the record straight.
I’m proud of my record, Governor. I’m proud as hell.
I’m proud that we ended the war in Iraq, and are ending the war in Afghanistan, that our troops have decimated Al-Qaeda and killed Osama bin Laden. I’m proud that we helped topple Gadhafi and Mubarak and restored American standing around the globe.
I’m proud that I fought to extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, and to force insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions, and to allow young people to remain on their parents’ policies.
I’m proud that we passed reform to end the Wall Street abuses that caused our financial disaster, and enacted consumer protections, and that we kicked banks out of federal student loan programs, which allowed us to expand Pell Grant spending.
I’m proud that we bet on American workers to rescue the auto industry and increased fuel efficiency standards and reduced our dependence on foreign oil and created hundreds of thousands of good jobs making alternative energy.
I’m proud that we signed the Lily Ledbetter Act to help make sure women receive equal pay for equal work and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and I’m proud to have nominated two brilliant female justices to the Supreme Court.
I’m proud to have improved our food safety system and expanded wilderness protection and our national service programs and increased support for our veterans.
I’m proud that our stock market and housing markets are both roaring back, and that we have had 13 straight quarters of economic growth.
And most of all, I’m proud that our economy has created five million new jobs in the past four years. Friday morning, we learned that private sector added 184,000 new jobs in October — and an average of 173,000 jobs per month since July. I’m proud that we have seen 32 straight months of private-sector job growth, and that we saw the largest one-year drop in unemployment in almost 20 years.
Those numbers may not impress my opponent. As a CEO, he’s used to eliminating or outsourcing jobs. But to the 184,000 citizens who can now support their families, and their dreams, it means everything.
Governor Romney can try to scare people into thinking the worst is yet to come. But deep down, Americans know that we are on the way back.
We got hit hard by a storm of our making. But like the residents of New Jersey and New York and Delaware and Ohio and Pennsylvania, we’re going to make ourselves whole again.
That doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen through cynicism and salesmanship. It happens through hard work and faith and the abiding belief that we are stronger as a people when we put aside our petty differences and shoulder our common burdens together.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.