The tired ‘experience’ canard

Last fall, Mitt Romney spoke to a gathering of capital financiers in Los Angeles, and predicted the 2012 campaign would be about “values,” not the economy.

Apparently, he’s since changed his mind.

Republican Mitt Romney will formally launch his second campaign for the White House on Thursday with an operation leaner and wiser than it was four years ago and a message singularly focused on what he sees as President Obama’s greatest area of vulnerability: jobs and the economy.

Romney and his advisers are working backward from November 2012. They believe that the economy will decide the outcome of the election and that the president has yet to convince voters that his economic policies have worked. […]

“This election is going to be a referendum on President Obama and his handling of the economy,” said campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. “He didn’t cause the economic recession, but his policies have prolonged it and deepened it in some respects. We wondered what it would be like to elect a president who has no experience. Now we know.”

At a certain level, the larger point here makes sense. The economy will almost be the driving factor in the 2012 race, so Romney’s focus away from “values” is sensible. If President Obama is perceived as having turned the economy around, he’s going to win. If he’s perceived as having come up short, he’s vulnerable.

There are, however, quite a few problems with the particulars of Romney’s message. The idea, for example, that Obama policies have “prolonged and worsened” the Republican economic crisis is demonstrably ridiculous.

But I’m especially fascinated by the Romney camp’s “no experience” line. This was popular in 2008 as a line of attack, but it didn’t go far. I’m a little surprised Romney and his team are still going with it.

Indeed, has Romney thought this one through? Barack Obama served eight years in state government, four years in the U.S. Senate, and by Election Day 2012, will have also served four years as the president of the United States in a time of multiple domestic and foreign crises. Mitt Romney served one term as governor, saw his approval ratings tank, and ran away rather than seek re-election.

Does Eric Fehrnstrom really want to talk about electing someone with “no experience”?

Complicating matters, during Romney’s only service in public office, his state’s record on job creation was “one of the worst in the country.” Adding insult to injury, “By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole.”

How bad is Romney’s record? During his tenure, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in jobs growth.

But wait, Romney’s defenders say. Sure, his only experience in public office was a bust, but let’s not forget he was also in the private sector, running Bain Capital. Except, that’s not much of a defense given the frequency with which Bain slashed American jobs.

Maybe Romney should go back to the “values” attack, after all?