The Imaginary Campaign

Romney is running against notions of a President and the economy that are at odds with reality

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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And while the Romney campaign was sleeping, the other 85% have seen their circumstances change. "Their household income hasn't improved," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's. "But their household balance sheets are very quickly moving in the right direction." The soaring stock market has restored their 401(k)s to their former plenitude; the values of their homes are creeping back above the waterline in some areas and booming in others; and, Zandi says, we are approaching "historic lows" in delinquency rates on consumer credit-card debt and auto and appliance loans. Our nation's feckless freeloaders have behaved responsibly since the 2008 crash. They've reduced their debts. They're feeling better about their circumstances. And suddenly, the percentage of people who think the country is on the right track is surging, especially in important swing states like Ohio, where the economic picture has improved dramatically.

It is the business of a presidential challenger to overstate the dire situation the incumbent has inflicted on a betrayed public. Bill Clinton certainly overstated the extent of the economic recession in 1992. But there are limits. There is reality. In this country, successful politicians have always avoided apocalyptic predictions. This year, however, Republicans have routinely embraced the dark side. If Obama is re-elected, "I don't know that our country really survives four more years of all the regulations," Senator Rand Paul told CNN's Wolf Blitzer during the Republican Convention. Blitzer called him on it, saying, "Wait a second. If President Obama is re-elected, you think the United States of America, in four years, will not be the United States of America?" Paul beat a hasty retreat.

Romney has lived the past six years in his party's overheated shark tank, spending more time pestering plutocrats for cash than meeting with and listening to the general public. I suspect Romney doesn't really believe that 47% of the electorate are moochers; he was just dialing for dollars. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to see how the man who mouthed those words, whether he believes them or not, can be elected President.

TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

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