Romney and Obama: It’s the price at the pump, stupid

Prices at the pump matter not only because they are a universal cost factor for all Americans, but also because they speak to a larger economic issue.

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2012 ― How much does a barrel of oil cost? How much does a gallon of gas cost?

If you know the answer to the first question, you are probably an oil trader or intimately involved in that business. For the rest of us, it’s easier to recall how much it cost to fill up the tank at the gas station, because that’s what matters.

In 2011, the average American family spent over $4,000 on gasoline. In context, that means more than 8 percent of a median family’s income was handed over at the pump, the highest its been in over 30-years.

Unfortunately, the simple truth about the cost of gas and its impact doesn’t appear to be so clear in Mitt Romney’s energy platform. It says, in part, “An affordable, reliable energy supply is fundamental to a prosperous and growing economy. With the right policies in place, America can become an energy superpower – and we can end our expensive and dangerous dependence on OPEC.” Right. That’s a great platitude, but what does that mean to the average American voter?

Going further his plan explains, “A successful national energy strategy will have a fundamental influence on the well-being of the nation. Dramatically increasing domestic energy production can bolster the competitiveness of virtually every industry in the country.”

Ok, “affordable, reliable energy” is a good thing. A “successful energy strategy” is important. Increasing “competiveness” is indeed necessary. Check, check, and check but so what?

Conversely, President Obama’s campaign site takes a vastly different approach. He has a header, which simply reads, “Saving Americans money at the pump.” Now that makes sense. That elicits interest. That conveys the point.

It’s not about dumbing something down – it’s about personalizing the message and making it stick.

At the first presidential debate, Romney demonstrated that he was beginning to articulate real-world realities by finally communicating in layman terms.

Romney said, “The people who are having the hard time right now are middle-income Americans. Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They’re just being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a ― this is a tax in and of itself. I’ll call it the economy tax. It’s been crushing.”

More to the point, he underscored this by saying, “At the same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president. Electric rates are up. Food prices are up … Middle-income families are being crushed.”

Those facts are salient in a debate. That’s the kind of argument to be making because that’s a point that makes sense. Simply, it resonates.

While wonkish facts can be extremely substantive, the importance of personalizing the impact of President Obama’s stewardship of this country and the economy should not be drowned out. By dropping the platitudinal fluff and making the case through personalization, Romney successfully drove his point home.

Prices at the pump matter not only because they are a universal cost factor for all Americans, but also because they speak to a larger economic issue – ensuring that Americans have more money in their wallets so they can pump it back into the economy.

If Romney’s debate performance was an indication of a ‘new-Mitt’, President Obama and his team must surely be nervous. Romney appeared solidly in command and he was an effective conveyer of President Obama’s failed policies.

Ann Romney told a newspaper that during debates one of the first things Mitt does is write ‘Dad’ on a piece of paper to keep him mindful and as a reminder to make his late father proud. Perhaps, during the next debate after Romney writes ‘Dad,’ he should consider writing ‘price at the pump’ below it.




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Timothy W. Coleman

Timothy W. Coleman is a writer, analyst, and a technophile. He primarily focuses on international affairs, security, and technology matters, but Tim has a keen interest in history, politics and archeology, having visited more than 20 Mayan ruins in Central America alone.

Tim started off on Capitol Hill, worked on a successful US Senate campaign, and subsequently joined a full-­‐service, technology marketing communications firm. He has co-­‐founded two technology startup firms, is a contributing editor at and he is an intelligence analyst at the Langley Intelligence Group Network ( where he specializes in aerospace, naval, and cyber security analysis.

Coleman completed his BA from Georgetown University, an MBA in Finance from Barry University, a Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University at NASA Ames, and a Master’s of Public and International Affairs with a major in Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Coleman volunteers and serves as a member of the board of directors at the Lint Center for National Security Studies. 


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