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October 02, 2012 11:58 AM Nothing To Say On the Economy

By Ed Kilgore

Ezra Klein absolutely nailed it yesterday in his assessment of what Mitt Romney needs to provide in the debates but can’t:

[H]e needs to do more than convince voters that the economy is bad at this very moment. He needs to convince them that the economy will be better if he’s elected president. And that means convincing them that he’s got a policy agenda capable of turning the economy around.
Which gets to Romney’s real challenge in the debates, which has also been his real difficulty throughout the campaign: He doesn’t have an appealing policy agenda capable of turning this thing around, and his party hasn’t given him the freedom to construct one.

Ezra goes on to discuss Romney’s lurch to the right during the primaries on taxes and the budget, positioning him far beyond the pale in terms of promoting fiscal policies that are both plausible and potentially popular. I’d add that Mitt’s ideological shift is all the more remarkable when you recall he was the preferred candidate of movement conservatives in 2008, before he repudiated much of his own record.

But the dirty little secret of the GOP at the moment is that it has to run a national campaign focused on unhappiness with the economy while advancing a policy agenda that has little or nothing to do with the economy, and in fact would almost certainly make the economy immediately worse. It hasn’t gotten much attention, but the Republican Party (including its presidential nominee) is committed to deflationary monetary policies, and austerity federal spending policies. Despite its occasional gestures in the direction of understanding the need for a more skilled work force, the GOP is also fully committed to the destruction of public education as we know it (or at least that’s how I would interpret the full-on, unrestricted voucher system Romney has proposed), and to fiscal policies that would almost certainly get the federal government out of the business of skills development within a decade. More generally, the Republican assault on the very concept of collective bargaining and its treatment of wages and benefits (not to mention regulations and corporate taxes) as nothing more than cost-boosting burdens on “wealth creators” harnesses the GOP to a concept of economic development that if it were effective would have long made Mississippi the nation’s economic dynamo.

Add in the fact that the Right has been promoting this same agenda (though not as radical a version of it) for decades, in all kinds of economic conditions, and you are driven to the unmistakable conclusion that all the talk about reviving the economy is just a pretext for achieving the permanent goals of the conservative movement. And that’s without even looking at its radical cultural agenda, which matters more to a big chunk of Romney foot soldiers than anything to do with the economy (indeed, their favorite candidate, Rick Santorum, argued that “strengthening traditional families” via bans on abortion—including many forms of what most of us consider contraception—and same-sex marriage was at all times and in all places the only way to provide long-term prosperity).

So Romney’s struggle to articulate an economic agenda while running a campaign that is supposedly about nothing else is no accident. And thus he will be driven to evasions and lies. It’s all he’s really got.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Danp on October 02, 2012 12:15 PM:

    It's hard to argue you have a better plan AND that you'll leave it up to Congress to work it out.

  • Bill Frank on October 02, 2012 12:17 PM:

    NO! He needs to convince the voters he is a nice guy and that he cares for them. All this talk of zingers is a smokescreen.

  • gregor on October 02, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Good summary of the real agenda of the GOP.

    In one phrase, to wit, to transform the USA into a third world country.

  • stormskies on October 02, 2012 12:29 PM:

    "And thus he will be driven to evasions and lies. Itís all heís really got."

    That's all he had had anyway ....

  • Mark_NC on October 02, 2012 12:34 PM:

    "he will be driven to evasions and lies. Itís all heís really got."

    It's all ANY of them have. In the light of day, their policies would make a maggot puke.

  • Peter C on October 02, 2012 12:40 PM:

    The Republicans haven't had an economic policy to benefit the country in recent memory. They don't want the government to be involved in the economy. They don't want it to help. They don't want it to intervene on the side of the public (to prevent pollution or financial meltdowns due to fraud). They don't want the government to be involved in health care. They don't want the government to be involved in education. They don't want the government to be involved in workplace safety. They don't want the goverment to be involved in retirement security. They don't want the goverment to be involved in disaster prevention or recovery.

    They want the military to protect their oil tankers and their off-shore bank accounts. They want government to buy stuff from them at a big, fat profit. They want the government to police the strictures and social conventions of their religion. They want the government to build road to THEIR factories (but only those roads).

    They have economic policies ONLY to the extent that they benefit those they see as 'in their tribe'. That's the 1% and those who shine their shoes.

  • Gandalf on October 02, 2012 12:57 PM:

    PeterC@12:40 You pretty much hit the nail right on the head. This is a fight that's been going on for centuries.

  • Ron Byers on October 02, 2012 12:59 PM:

    If Republicans can't articulate their real agenda in public, I think there is something really wrong with their agenda.

    If the mainstream media wasn't in the tank for the Republicans they would be asking real agenda questions morning, noon and night.

  • boatboy_srq on October 02, 2012 1:02 PM:

    Ditto Peter C.

    It's surprising how like CIA-reenginered Guatemala and Honduras, and Pinochet-era Chile, the GOTea's agenda sounds. And we know how well those worked out.

  • c u n d gulag on October 02, 2012 1:24 PM:

    boatboy,
    In all fairness, it worked out very well for the Plutocrats in Guatemala, Honduras, and Chile - even to this day, for the smarter ones.

  • Daryl McCullough on October 02, 2012 1:51 PM:

    I think that "limited government" conservatives have painted themselves into a corner. They would like to campaign on the usual politician's promises to fix things--the economy, education, infrastructure, the environment, etc.--but they are committed to a philosophy that holds that none of these things are within the scope of legitimate federal power.

    So really, the best they can do is to claim that everything will fix itself, if the government doesn't get in the way.

  • bigtuna on October 02, 2012 1:57 PM:

    Following on this post and the one about working class women. Got on a different bus this am, and it soon filled with: a family with a mom in wheel chair, dad with developmental issues; a guy who was blind, and one arm impaired; three seniors; several grade schools; then to th bus with vo tech and college students, and two women going to fast food restaurants to work.

    None. I mean none, of these folks care, or will ever benefit from less regulation, lower taxes, reconfigured cap. gains taxes, medicad bloc grants to states, lower inheritance taxes, etc. taxes, a more muscular foriegn plociy [except to be at risk of having loved ones go to the military],

    The Romney world never, ever, acknowledges the existence of this world; cannot formualte a set of policies that help them; nor will they ever; and they cannot articulate a set of policies that these folks would relate to. Ever.

  • schtick on October 02, 2012 2:56 PM:

    Peter C, you have the teapubs policy nailed. The only thing you left out is taxing the working class to give welfare to big business that doesn't need it.

  • thebewilderness on October 02, 2012 5:14 PM:

    I expect him to repeat his claim that he is the confidence fairy. That all it will take for the stock market to go up and the economy to improve is for him to win the election.
    If I were a betting person I would put money on it.

  • Doug on October 02, 2012 5:18 PM:

    "Evasions and Lies", isn't that a new cop show on TBS?

  • Gov't Mule on October 03, 2012 10:41 AM:

    The movement conservative favorite observation was a good point Ed. Neither they nor Romney have any core belief other than they want to be in control by any means necessary. Movement conservatism is as malleable as Willard Romney.