In an attempt to pile more pressure on his opponent, Mr Romney, Mr Obama revealed that he has learned since becoming President that he has to represent all of the people, and work for them all.
I found this a bizarre statement. The President was, after all, a Senator before becoming President. He is a clever and well educated man who has spent much of his adult life thinking about politics. Why didn’t he discover earlier in his career this basic truth of western representative democracy? Even the youngest and most inexperienced MP should know that once elected they have to represent all their electors. If they wish to stay elected they have to show inclusiveness as well as judgement. You do not turn constituents away from a surgery or decline to answer their emails because they have a different political view to your own. You seek to find things that unite us, as well as sometimes arguing passionately for a change or a cause where there are differing views.
Mr Romney’s “gaffe” will be exploited by his opponents endlessly. I am not a Republican, so I do not write in his defence out of political interest. I have not checked his figures, which may be overstated. He did, however, blurt out a problem which needs debating. If too many people come to look to the state to supply their income and main services, they lose their independence, and the wider society becomes less successful and enterprising. The American dream is to treat everyone equally, to allow them to get on in the world, to let them strive for the good life by their own efforts. There is a similar but less brash version of this vision in European democracies.
I strongly support generous benefits and support for those who are disabled or unable to work for good reasons. I do not think living on benefits should be a lifestyle choice. Where there are problems with finding jobs the state has to work with the community concerned to overcome the obstacles. Where there are jobs the unemployed should take them. Free state education should equip the many to be able to work. Economic policy has to deliver the conditions for enough jobs. Much of the political debate in the UK is about how we can create the conditions for enough jobs to go to UK citizens, to shrink the benefit bills. No political party disagrees with this aim. The rows are over second order issues on how you achieve it.
Mr Romney was wrong to imply all people dependent on state support would vote against him. His challenge is to show that he could help them aspire to a better, more rewarding and challenging life. Mr Obama’s challenge is to show that he has been governing in the interests of the many. He has to explain why so many Americans are still out of work, and why his health reforms proved so divisive.