A Winning Strategy

A couple years ago I was out with some friends and even though it was still early in the night, one of the guys started dancing with a relatively unattractive young lady and making overtures to convince her to come with him and get out of the place.  When I say early, it wasn’t even midnight yet and the place was open for another couple hours.  It didn’t make any sense to me because a bevy of beautiful young ladies were still floating around, getting drunk and and seemingly unattached.  I couldn’t understand what was happening because this guy isn’t bad looking, has an interesting job and should be able to do better.

As soon as possible, I pulled him aside and asked what he was thinking.  He listened to my arguments for a moment and, once I had finished, responded with three words: “Go ugly early.”

In retrospect, he had a point.  At the end of the night, all the pretty girls left and the rest of us were still there, desperately and drunkenly hitting on what was left.  His thought was, why delay the inevitable when you can take care of things early and be assured of some sort of result.  It may not be a winning strategy in terms of quality but it seems to work in terms of quantity.

This is why I’m not all that surprised to see the Presidential race already shaping up to be nasty.  I guess if there’s any surprise, it’s that Obama, Mr. “Hope and Change,” seems to have gone there first and seems to be doing so pretty effectively.

Now, I’m actually of the opinion that Obama’s first term has been relatively successful.  His actions and those of his team prevented the recession from deepening into a depression.  Whether you agree with his politics or not, stepping in to save GM prevented catastrophic job loss at a moment when the economy could have crumbled under the weight of all those jobless people.  However, it’s hard to prove a negative so Obama is instead saddled with the weight of continuing economic sluggishness and jobs numbers that just refuse to grow.

But that’s not the story at this point.  Sure, it’s the summer and that means the undecided voters haven’t really tuned in yet.  But it was also summer when the Bush campaign launched its “Swiftboat” campaign against John Kerry and when people finally started paying attention, that had become part of the narrative.  Obama has managed to “Swiftboat” Romney with the tax return issue and if history serves, the issue will still be front and center come September when voters tune back in.

The story becomes even more interesting if you buy into the theory floated by Businessweek earlier this week.  Romney has adamantly refused to release his 2009 tax returns despite calls by some in his own party to do so.  This “lack of transparence” has damaged Romney’s standing but still he holds firm.  Why?  Well, Businessweek’s hypothesis is, maybe Romney didn’t pay any taxes that year!

It makes sense.  The very wealthy took a bath in the 2008 crash but losing a lot one year often means a huge tax break the following year.  So, if Romney’s fortunes took a dive, it’s natural and perfectly legal that he didn’t pay any taxes the next year.  However, try explaining that to the millions of unemployed out there or the sizable number of voters already paying a higher tax rate than Romney in a normal year.  The American electorate is notoriously immune to nuance.  News of Romney not having to pay taxes in 2009, justified or not, could pretty much lock up re-election for Obama.

So, Team Romney sits tight and continues to get battered from all sides.  Maybe they’re playing a Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope and want to wait until the news cycle is in their favor before releasing what might be completely innocuous tax returns.  Or maybe they’re just going to play it this way all the way through to the end.  All I know is that if Obama does win in November, you can chalk part of it up to my buddy’s strategy.  Go ugly early.

-A

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