Mitt Romney's incomplete plan to reform the tax code is being built around the idea that low taxes are good for the economy. Most people believe they are.
The Obama campaign is trying to nickname the presumptive Republican nominee "Romney Hood," a reference to Robin Hood's evil twin who takes from the poor and gives to the rich. The Democratic strategy is to make voters think Romney would use the tax code to beat down the middle class and boost the wealthy.
Romney is right that these and other partisan accusations are Obama-loney, which rhymes with baloney.
Many Democrats agree with the assumption that tax cuts spark economic activity, as evidenced by their support for the temporary reduction in payroll taxes for Social Security and bipartisan fears that scheduled tax increases and spending cuts in January will send the economy off a "fiscal cliff."
Helping the economy is why Obama wants to keep the Bush tax cuts for another year, at least for everyone earning less than $250,000. He knows that if the economy returns to recession, the hardest hit will be the working poor.
Obama's criticism of the Romney plan is that it would give fat tax cuts to the rich and pay for it by jacking up the tax bill of working households. Romney tells anyone who will listen that Obama is wrong. He has no plans to zap the middle-class, and he's convincing.
In a speech to the NAACP, he said, "The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense. The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not. The president wants to make this a campaign about blaming the rich. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class."
He is on the defensive because the tax revenue in his plan falls short of his budget ambitions. In that he is no different from Obama or former President Bush, both of whom borrowed money, Obama more heavily than Bush.
In an analysis of the Romney plan, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concludes that Romney's proposed cuts in tax rates would force him to raise taxes on the middle class. The study allows Obama to accuse Romney of a secret plan to raise taxes by $2,000 for a middle-class family with children. On paper, Romney's plan loses much more revenue by lowering rates than it gains by closing loopholes and broadening the tax base.
Romney does propose aggressive budget cuts, but they're inadequate. Still, it's a big leap to assume, as Obama does, that Romney would urge Congress to take away popular and longstanding tax breaks like the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes.
With the top 20 percent of households paying 94 percent of federal income taxes, Obama wants to support a heightened level of spending by shifting even more of the tax load up the income scale. That plan is more divisive than Romney's, even if there were enough rich taxpayers to support those spending goals.
It's more sensible to tax less and spend less. Yet it would be politically self-defeating for Romney to lay out too many details, all of which would be beyond a president's direct power to control.
The backdrop for the 2012 campaign is the inability of Congress to agree on how to raise revenue and cut spending. If it doesn't reach agreement by year's end, every taxpayer will have to pay more, and the 40 percent who get money from the IRS will get less.
Obama, who is much better at salesmanship than leadership, has to take some of the blame for the government's steady slide toward this fiscal cliff.
Romney may be overly optimistic that the economy is only napping and in need of the right tax policy to awaken it and send it back to full employment, and away from the edge of disaster.
But his is a more hopeful approach than settling for an economic snooze built to last.