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PRESIDENT OBAMA professes to be a Christian. Some who stagger around in the far-right fever swamps claim he is a Muslim. But whatever Mr. Obama's faith, judging by recent days Somebody Up There likes him to supply him a general election opponent such as Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney's criticism of the administration following the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East was widely portrayed as crass exploitation of a spontaneous tragedy--never mind the Republican's developing vindication as evidence mounts of terrorist premeditation unrelated to a scurrilous YouTube trailer. More serious was last week's release of a May-shot video in which Mr. Romney seemed to write off 47 percent of voters as piglets hopelessly attached to the teats of the federal sow--a monumentally stupid analysis of the electorate on both the factual and political levels.
The factual critique of Mr. Romney's fundraising statement to a clique of Daddy Warbucks types has been thoroughly made: Millions of Americans who draw Social Security, VA benefits, and so on routinely vote Republican; the aged and infirm can hardly be called parasites except in some neo-pagan society; the complexities of even unwarranted dependency call for humane rather than derisive rhetoric; etc.
But the political implications for Mr. Romney's campaign are worse. A new Atlantic/Aspen Institute survey reveals that most Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and that their children will be worse off than they (such gloom predates the Obama administration). If this view becomes set, who would most voters, anxious if not downright scared, rather have in the White House--someone like Mr. Obama ready to expand the welfare state to meet basic human needs or someone who views the majority's deepening plight as a consequence of insufficient gumption? This is why the self-inflicted "47 percent" wound, if untreated, may turn lethally gangrenous.
What's the poultice? A plain and plausible plan for national restoration. It is not enough for Mr. Romney to wait for dissatisfaction with this nearly dead-in-the-water economy to put him in the White House. It probably won't happen. Saddled with both crippling stagflation and foreign-policy impotence (see: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis), Jimmy Carter was still the people's choice until a few weeks before the 1980 election. To kick out a sitting president, he must be bad and you must be good.
Getting good for Mr. Romney means fleshing out that hazy "five-point plan" to rescue the middle class, pounding home its details at every turn. As Karl Rove writes in The Wall Street Journal, "He'll have to deepen awareness of how each element would help families in concrete, practical ways, and offer optimism for renewed prosperity. He'll need to be bold as he offers a compelling agenda of conservative reform."
No American wants to see Main Street indefinitely littered with wrecked lives, the streetscape of the last, long five years. If Mr. Romney has genuine ideas to resurrect the hopeful America of our fathers, he ought to share them--at the same volume a Doberman shares a greeting with a burglar. Otherwise, voters are apt to stick with the deficient, but safer, incumbent. In God we trust; politicians have to earn it.