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How Obama’s open-mike gaffe sets the stage

Mitt Romney wasted no time in capitalizing on President Obama’s open-mike mega-error – when he was caught Monday telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues after Election Day and that Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space.” (Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom should breathe a sigh of relief; a comment this bad from an actual candidate dwarfs whatever an adviser could possibly say.)

The Romney team blasted out an e-mail: “President Obama had a revealing and unguarded moment when he was caught on tape telling Russia’s president, ‘This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.’ President Obama signaled that he’s going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be ‘flexible’ in a second term. Higher taxes, more spending and increased debt are all on the table as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, despite what he says publicly. President Obama needs to level with the American public about his real agenda.”

It’s remarkable, actually, that Obama could be any more flexible with Russia than he’s already been under his “reset” – which is indistinguishable from appeasement. His administration praised rigged Russian elections, helped get Russia into the World Trade Organization, has tried to slow down human rights legislation aimed at Russian perpetrators, and yanked missile defense sites out of Eastern Europe.

This is a stunning gift to Romney from the Obama camp. The legitimate concern that Obama will take his re-election as a mandate to head left is likely to become an all-purpose weapon. Romney’s team might argue, for example: “Obama says he’ll only raise taxes on the rich. But after the election he’ll have ‘more flexibility.’” Or: “He says he’d never impose a peace agreement on Israel, but after the election he’ll have ‘more flexibility.’”

This comment is so potent because it came from Obama himself and because it is true in the aggregate. Is there anyone who thinks that Obama, if re-elected, wouldn’t run wild with policies that the majority of the electorate opposes? Otherwise, he’d roll them out now, of course. And what is the left going to say? That Obama won’t act on the liberal-agenda wish list if he gets a second term? We can argue about what liberal items would be on the list, but the president can’t honestly claim he is not going to try to “finish the work.” Given his recent shift left, his “more flexibility” statement is going to be hard to live down.

This election is not simply a referendum on Obama’s actions to date; it’s essentially a blank check for the president’s second term. Romney should be asking wary independents and moderates: Is there a scintilla of a chance that Obama would be less liberal in a second term?