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Obama and Romney Ohio speeches: some thoughts

Can a complicated argument beat a simple one?

President Barack Obama

More than any other single factor, the deep thinkers tell us, a presidential election is a referendum on how the electorate thinks the economy is doing. If so, President Obama will probably lose.

The U.S. economy is much healthier than the European economy (which, one should note, has tried to address its issues with austerity, similar to the Republican approach), but that may not matter politically. The stock market is up about 50 percent during the Obama years, which is pretty amazing and ought to make Obama popular with the investor class, but doesn’t. We’re going on three years of slow, steady job growth and GDP growth, but the “slow” seems to trump the “steady” in public perception.

The Republican argument is pretty simple. If you don’t like the economy, fire the incumbent and hire – well, you really only have one other choice.

In his big speech yesterday, Obama tried a more complicated argument that could summarized thus:

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I inherited big mess, worse than I even realized at the time. The things I am doing are working, but slowly. I know you’re frustrated by the slowness and so am I. But the alternative offered by the Repubs is to go back to the lower-taxes, less-regulation approach that got us into the mess in the first place.

Furthermore, the Repubs want to blame my policies for not bringing the economy back more quickly, but they bear at least some of the blame for blocking the things I’ve been trying to do in the second half of my term, since they gained enough power to block pretty much everything.

It’s not really all that complicated of an argument, but it’s considerably more complicated than if-you-don’t-like-the-economy-fire-the-incumbent. It requires voters to have position on the perpetual argument over Keynesian economics. It requires them to think back at least a far as the Bush (II) administration. It requires them to make a judgment on how quickly a new administration and new set of policies can reasonably be expected to produce a turnaround. It requires them to make a distinction between slow growth and negative growth.

It’s reasonable to wonder whether, in U.S. politics, a complicated argument can beat a simpler one.