Romney should have cut a television ad in which he spoke directly to the viewer, perhaps from a small town main street somewhere in New Hampshire or Ohio with lots of American flags waving in the background, or from inside an old-fashioned general store. It could start with the "you didn't build that" clip, then cut to Romney, in shirtsleeves and jeans, and go something like this:
I know what it's like to start a business, to risk my family's future on a dream. I've been there. In my career, I was even fortunate enough to help other hard-working Americans realize their own dreams. You heard the president. He thinks you didn't earn your success because you used taxpayer-funded roads, bridges, and schools. He thinks you should pay even higher taxes because you used public services you already paid for. I don't see things that way, and I think most Americans don't either. I think most Americans understand that their success is their own achievement, and that our highways and schools and bridges are our achievements, too. Sure, we have to work together to achieve our shared goals. But we don't succeed as a nation when we deny others their success, when we tear others down to build ourselves up. We won't rebuild our economy if we keep pitting ourselves against each other. That's not the American way. If I am your president, it won't be my way.
Instead, the campaign made an ad that did not feature Romney and implied that Obama meant entrepreneurs did not build their businesses. It failed to create an emotionally favorable impression of the candidate, and it gave the Obama campaign a point to rebut. It was Obama who cut an ad in which he spoke directly and reassuringly to the American people.
That the issue remains relevant nearly a month after Obama's remarks is a testament not to the Romney campaign's sinister manipulative powers, but to the power of the president's own words. No spin by Romney, no additional context from the White House, can change what the president actually said. It was a raw statement of deep philosophical belief.
Only two things are saving Obama from the full force of his words. One is his own verbosity. Had he been able to express his full thought in two lines instead of four paragraphs, there would be no escape. As it is, most Americans will never hear or read the full remarks. The other is the singular inability of the Romney campaign to capitalize fully on Obama's mistakes to create a favorable impression of Romney. Even with an issue tailor-made for Romney, the campaign can't get it to fit quite right.
Since Obama said those four little words, he has risen three points in the polls and Romney has dropped five. It could be that Americans no longer believe in the Jeffersonian concept of America. Or it could be that Romney blew his response, and Americans have not been shown how radical the president's words really are.