Political Animal


October 04, 2012 5:09 PM Right Out of the Bush/Rove Playbook

By Ed Kilgore

Those of us who think this election is a referendum on George W. Bush as well as on Barack Obama or Mitt Romney aren’t just arguing this would be an effective political ploy, and we aren’t exclusively talking about an exact side-by-side identity of Bush and Romney economic policies, though there aren’t a lot of differences. We also have memories long enough recall how very similar W.’s deceptive political pitch was to what we’re getting today from Mitt. Jon Chait reinforces this argument today with his own reminiscences and reporting:

It’s worth considering a similar — in many ways, identical — episode that took place a dozen years before. During the 2000 election, the growth of a budget surplus offered the country a major choice. Al Gore proposed to use most of the surplus to retire the national debt and the balance for public investment. George W. Bush proposed a large, regressive income tax that Gore warned would exacerbate inequality and jeopardize the soundness of the budget.
Then, as now, the Republican simply denied over and over that his plan would do what the Democrats said it would. Bush portrayed his plan as devoting just a small fraction of the surplus to tax cuts and described his tax cut itself as benefitting the poor far more than the rich. And you certainly could find circumstantial evidence to suggest that Bush might govern the way he portrayed himself, rather than the way his plan read. He had governed in a bipartisan way in Texas, he had explicitly denounced the conservative wing of the Congressional GOP, and he had surrounded himself with moderate advisers like Michael Gerson and Karen Hughes.
But Bush in fact followed through on what his plan actually did, which happened to be what Gore described it as, and not what Bush described it as. His promises to maintain the budget surplus and direct most of the tax cuts to lower-earners fell by the wayside. What mattered was the party, and the Republican Party was committed to a policy of regressive tax cuts.

Chait goes on to talk about Al Gore’s constant and ultimate self-defeating efforts during that year’s debates to pin down Bush on his tax proposals. Bush’s evasions and mischaracterizations were a lot like Romney’s right now. We should never forget that Bush, after surviving the most divisive and heavily contested presidential election since 1876, quickly resorted to the reconciliation process for getting his tax cuts through Congress with a minimum of Democratic support needed—just as we have every reason to believe Romney will do with the entire Ryan Budget.

We’ve been here before, folks.

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.


  • sjw on October 04, 2012 5:44 PM:

    And that's why Obama needs to fight from now on and to fight back at Debate no. 2. Enough of the "let's be nice" "we're all reasonable people" kumbaya nonsense. It didn't work in 2009, 2010, or 2011 in Obama's dealings with Congress. It won't work now. People want a leader who is willing to stand up and argue forcefully for his beliefs. And yes, to argue against his opponents, and if necessary, shout them down. Obama failed last night. He's got about a month to make things right.

  • N Bates on October 04, 2012 5:55 PM:

    Yes, and I see a further parallel: Like Gore, Obama actually did try to refute the opponent's misleading claims. He did so about Romney's tax-cut?-plan, saying it would be a five or so trillion tax cut - and being piled on because he *did* keep repeating that, even as supposed "allies" pillory Obama for "not showing up" etc. Similar story re the 716 billion of Medicaid: Obama *did* explain that was about reducing waste and paying providers less, rather than a cut to the recipients (but he could have noted it's really only a relative reduction anyway.) Folks, complaining about Obama: you can't have it both ways. Obama could have done better, but the real scandal is that a rude, bullying upper-class frat boy (even worse than the Bush kind IMHO) got away with that and massive dishonesty because the commentariat failed their duties, and because so many swing voters are easy prey for that very same kind of superficially appearance of zing. If Obama loses, I personally will blame the ones slashing him now for the debate, as much as I will the pious purists who stay home or vote alternative.

    "Fine minds make fine distinctions."

    PS "ubledlo policy)," FWIW

  • James E. Powell on October 04, 2012 5:56 PM:

    No doubt Obama will still see himself as required to act 'presidential' and he may be right about that.

    The campaign needs to build the "Romney lied in the first debate and will continue to lie" theme everyday between now and the next debate.

    Also too, calling some one a liar is not as effective as demanding that he tell the truth.

  • c u n d gulag on October 04, 2012 6:08 PM:

    Mitt Romney believes in NOTHING!
    Except whatever benefits Mitt Romney.

    He actually makes W. look like a man of principle. I think Bush actually believed his own bullsh*t.

    But in reality, there's nothing more dangerous than a man (in this case) who believes in NOTHING - because that means he'll believe in, and do, ANYTHING!!!

  • Altoid on October 04, 2012 10:39 PM:

    Agreed, and there's one more parallel between them. bush had a defensibly bipartisan record in Texas because he planned it that way; Texas was never more than a stepping stone for a White House run and he used it to position himself in the most effective way he could.

    Same for mitt in Massachusetts. He wanted that credential and that's all he wanted. Just like bush, there is no inner moderate hiding in mitt romney-- people who talk about that can only point to Massachusetts, but the whole point of that experience was resume-burnishing. It says precisely nothing about what he'd do in DC-- no more than bush's time in Austin forecast what he did.

  • alwaysiamcaesar on October 05, 2012 7:22 AM:

    Mittens enamored himself in the style we have become accustomed to in sociopaths . Of his overtures to the opposition party in Massachusetts , mittens practiced talking out of both sides of his mouth , until he was a legend in his own mind .
    Mittens spoke of conciliatory presentation but promoted an unparalled election gambit in supporting early and often nominees to take over the political dynamic in Massachusetts , the heartland of America -

    ..................................................He shoulda known it was dangerous
    ..................................................By the very same Bikers !

    - The talk is of unparalled gambits , but it is the deception that rankles , sweet sweet mitten talk , and blunt blunt mittens action . If he had been less a straightforward deceiver , his tanking would not have occurred in the same devastating booschian , but fashionable style .
    While back at the ranch the same time the things his smoke and mirrors offered as candy would have passed , ie , MassHealth .
    There is an honorable way to fight , that win or lose earns the respect of all , this is an alien notion to sociopaths .
    Mittens and both his faces became intolerable , dear old mittens was talking "working" with his dear friends in the legislature , while we witness mittens ratting out the very same friends , doing every thing in his power to undermine those same chuckle headed friends in fact .
    So crafty , how did we ever find out .

  • John on October 05, 2012 12:05 PM:

    I agree with Frank Rich who said in his NY Magazine column of his view on the debate:

    "If you were David Axelrod, what would you do to come back from this?
    Perhaps using John Kerry as a surrogate was not the most brilliant idea. On Wednesday nightís Daily Show, Jon Stewart brought on Stephen Colbert to prepare him for this weekendís webcast debate with Bill OíReilly. Colbert might be a good coach for Obama, too. But seriously, this isnít about Kerry or Axelrod or Plouffe, itís about Obama. He has no one to blame but himself for his lack of concentration, specifics, and fight. And given that his convention speech was also pallid, itís past time for him to wake up and fight."


    So I'm just hoping Obama wakes up finally and fights. We saw some animation yesterday, but, unfortunately, I fear the jury is still out whether he will to the extent that he needs to win this race.