Mr. Romney wants to talk about the economy. When he does, his questions and answers are sure, sharp, crisp and right on target. He doesn’t have to look at a teleprompter for facts and figures. The economy is his home field. Foreign policy is his road game.
The president wants to talk about anything but Libya. It’s his No. 1 screw-up abroad, and he knows it. He thought he could talk his way out of responsibility for what happened in Benghazi and in the subsequent public-relations fiasco. But for once his remarkable gifts of blab and bluster have failed him. The cover-up of the sad, tragic story of what happened to Ambassador Chris Stevens, and why, continues to unravel. The president promises an investigation but is trying to run out the clock until after the election, when the real story can’t any longer cost him.
The mainstream media, as usual, is doing what it does best, rooting through effluvia in search of trivia, sensation and irrelevancy. Some media glitterati seized on Mr. Romney using the word “binders” to describe where he kept names of qualified women for high state-government posts when he was governor of Massachusetts. Certain women too delicate to go out in the sun without a parasol accuse Mr. Romney of wanting to put them in some sort of kinky exercise. But “binder” is a perfectly appropriate word for “loose-leaf notebook” (available at any Staples or Office Depot); if he had said “loose-leaf notebook,” he could be accused of wanting to consort with “loose women” — and it’s a good thing for him he didn’t say he kept the lists of women “under covers.”
The New York Times even took Mr. Romney to task for recalling how, as governor, he prescribed flexible hours for women with small children, to enable them to leave the office early to get home to make supper for them. This enraged the editorialists: “But what if a woman had wanted to go home to study Spanish? Or rebuild an old car? Or spend time with her lesbian partner?” (Neither Jonathan Swift nor Evelyn Waugh could make up satire as good as this.)
But Mr. Romney isn’t addressing his campaign to lesbians eager to get home to finish ring-and-valve jobs on old Pontiacs while listening to their partners tutor them in Spanish pronoun declensions. Instead, he’s casting a wider net for votes. He wants to assure women — even “the little lady [eager] to go home early and tend to her children” — that he understands the burdens and responsibilities of women and wants to make their lives easier. Such women, as alien as they may be to the mainstream media, have been hurt, and badly, by the economic incompetence of Mr. Obama.
Just ask them. When CBS News, no friend of Republican candidates, asked a polling sample just after the second presidential debate who viewers thought was better on the economy — the most important issue in the campaign — 65 percent of them answered “Romney.” Only 34 percent said “Obama.”
Results like this encourage Mr. Romney, as some of his wise men have, to go easy on the Libyan fiasco in the final debate. But he shouldn’t. With considerable help from an inept moderator, Mr. Obama further muddled the miserable record on how he screwed up on Libya. Candy Crowley admitted afterward that Mr. Romney was “essentially” correct when he said that for two weeks the president couldn’t admit the Benghazi tragedy was a terrorist attack.
The president, with Ms. Crowley’s help, took refuge in the ambiguous transcript of his muddled remarks in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, but Mr. Romney has one last opportunity to put the record straight. For 14 days, the president, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and his press flack spun the imaginative tale that the tragedy was the result of an Internet video that almost nobody saw. This conflicted with the fiction, peddled endlessly by the president, that he destroyed Islamic terrorism when he dispatched Osama bin Laden to wherever evil Muslims go when they die. This is the lie Mr. Romney must drive a stake through.
Going after Obama foreign-policy mistakes and misadventures cries out for the sure, sharp, crisp questions and answers Mr. Romney displays when he talks about the economy. The overriding concern in this campaign is the consistent, driving incompetence of Mr. Obama in everything he touches — at home and abroad. That’s what Mr. Romney must make him talk about.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.