Political Animal


October 18, 2012 3:11 PM Unlike Bush, Mitt Will Have Five-Point Plan

By Ed Kilgore

In many respects the most interesting moment in the second presidential candidates’ debate didn’t involve Libya or “binders full of women” or any of the other stuff post-debate chatter centered on. It was when an undecided voter fulfilled my own pre-debate fantasy by flatting asking Mitt Romney how he differentiated himself from George W. Bush.

In his latest Bloomberg column, Ezra Klein says that was a very important question for Romney to crush—but he didn’t. First, he wandered off into a neurotic or evasive effort to go back to an earlier question. And then he basically just recited most of his “five-point plan for jobs and growth” while asserting that’s what made him different from Bush.

It was a pretty bold effort to count on voter amnesia or ignorance about Bush’s policies, and just stay on message. As Ezra notes, there’s not much of anything in Mitt’s five-point plan that Bush couldn’t have (or didn’t) embrace as well, up to and including a balanced-budget pledge neither man seems to have had any intention of keeping.

But Obama’s follow-up to Mitt’s evasions was interesting as well. He could have done what Ezra did in his column in pointing out that the big economic policies that led to the 2008 disaster remain part of the Romney/Ryan agenda. But instead, he focused on the areas where Romney has parted company with Bush in a more radically conservative direction: immigration reform, most obviously, but also Medicare voucherization (half-true) and a ban on funding for Planned Parenthood (which W. would probably have supported if asked, despite Poppy’s identification with the group).

In taking this tack, Obama sacrificed the opportunity to identify Mitt with W. in order to attack the “Moderate Mitt Meme.” But it might have been a lot more effective had he pointed out that Mitt’s party has decided almost unanimously that Bush was a bad president because he was too moderate. This was the verdict after the 2008 defeat, and was the constant refrain of the 2012 Republican primary season: the GOP had erred not by pursuing endless high-end tax cuts or relentless deregulation of the financial sector or a dumb war with Iraq followed by a disastrous occupation, but by creating Medicare Part D and No Child Left behind and embracing comprehensive immigration reform. Bush was equally faulted for failing to undertake (with the exception of his abortive Social Security offensive in 2005) the kind of assault on the big New Deal and Great Society programs now associated with the Ryan Budget.

I realize that’s a mouthful for a debate, but probably would have involved no more words than were expended by Obama in defending his record on oil and gas permits. As it is, Obama did use Bush’s record to undermine Romney’s latest self-presentation, but did not clearly tie Romney to the worst Bush policies and to a party determined to make them far worse. As it happens, the Romney-equals-Bush litany is being hammered in pretty regularly on the campaign trail by Bill Clinton, but you do get the sense Romney’s getting away with more than he should on this very important front.

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.


  • Keith Roberts on October 18, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Re that 5 point plan: here are 3 things I wish Obama could bring up:
    1. The 5 point plan is pure aspiration; there's not a program in it. Moreover, most people could easily agree with every point in it, including Obama. It's just empty phrases.
    2. Romney is the Tea Party candidate, and the House's record shows what the Tea Party platform (and their Republican Party platform) stands for. Obama should be echoing Harry Truman and running against the do-nothing Congress of Romney's sponsors.
    3. What about the environment? It may not be the most urgent immediate concern of voters, but Romney is promising to completely ignore it, and destroy the laws and regulations designed to protect it. Obama does protect the environment, and demands that the laws be observed (aka the pipeline issue).

  • Bokonon on October 18, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Counting on voter amnesia or ignorance (or wishful thinking) seems to be working just fine for Romney, doesn't it?

    Besides, the media just LOVES these new promises of "bipartisanship" and moderation from the Romney campaign ... even though that last debate made it clear that this positioning is just word games and horsepucky.

    And the polls are tied.

    So ... Romney's evasiveness and smiling contempt for the media and the public seems to be both deserved (and working).

  • c u n d gulag on October 18, 2012 3:26 PM:

    "But it might have been a lot more effective had he pointed out that Mitt’s party has decided almost unanimously that Bush was a bad president because he was too moderate."

    Maybe it's me, but except for being more implicit about that, that's what I thought Obama was doing.

    Maybe he could have redirected the question back to Mitt, and said, "Governor, you've been whining about wanting more time. Ok, here you go - take my 2 minutes and explain how on Earth your 5-Point Plan is any different from what George W. Bush did. I'm sure people want to know."

  • reidmc on October 18, 2012 3:35 PM:

    This Romney = Bush approach is a MUST for the foreign policy debate. Same overly agressive, exceptionalist advisors in both cases.

  • Frank Wilhoit on October 18, 2012 3:41 PM:

    Romney doesn't have five points, he only has one: make business unaccountable to the law. The bigger the business, the less accountable. Here's the kicker: give business everything it says it wants and it still won't hire.

  • boatboy_srq on October 18, 2012 3:42 PM:

    There was one other guy famous for Five [Something] Plans. I think his public persona's name began with S...

    CUNDG may be more right than s/he thinks when it comes to Multiple Position Mitt - after all the guy who came up with the other Five [Something] Plans made full use of the Gs in CUND's handle.

    And if MPM has a five point plan, Wouldn't Step One be "cut taxes" and Step Five be "Profit!"? That worked so well for Bain.

  • Gandalf on October 18, 2012 3:43 PM:

    I know I'm preaching to the choir here but I just read Mitt's five point plan and I must say that Mitt should be in the used car salesman shyster hall of fame after foisting that unadulterated bull shit on the american public. My god a good deal of the supposed plan is spent on running down Obama. Hey Hey don't you buy that Honda that gets 35 miles to the gallon I've got a wonderfull Ford Pinto POS here that I say will get tremendous mileage. What you say? How do we know what kind of gas mileage does it get well you'll just have to buy this little gem to find out. You can trust me I'm an honest guy hell I was even some kind of high muckety muck at my quasi religous institution.

  • SecularAnimist on October 18, 2012 3:54 PM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "you do get the sense Romney’s getting away with more than he should"

    Yeah, like being the Republican nominee for President.

  • Peter C on October 18, 2012 4:15 PM:

    There's really only one point of any specificity in his plan; he's going to give himself a ginormous tax cut. Everything else happens by magic. But that one point is all Mitt cares about, really.

  • T2 on October 18, 2012 4:23 PM:

    I almost fell out of my chair when that guy asked the Bush question.....I could see Obama licking his chops...Romney's answer was nonsense but in the process he managed to cast his own Party's most recent president as quite a loser. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in either Bush's tv room.
    Yet when Obama's turn came, he did pretty well, but I do think he failed to staple Mitt's ass to Bush's Great Recession's economic, regulatory, and financial policies...which basically Romney's plan. But this question could have provided Obama with an hour of points to make....in a one minute rebuttal.

  • @TeaPartyCat on October 18, 2012 4:41 PM:

  • Shoo Fitz-Wearit on October 18, 2012 5:05 PM:

    but you do get the sense Romney's getting away with more than he should on this

    More than he should, measured how? Isn't he getting away with all of it, the hidden agenda, because all he has to do is gesture hypnotically, and half the electorate enters a trance? Does anybody measure the idiot vote? Why bother discussing anything at all, if idiots are the majority? Just run ads with images of hamburgers and french fries under the candidate's name.

  • Doug on October 18, 2012 5:58 PM:

    I tend to see much more posted here about the "short memories" of the voting public than I really think is warranted and that applies to having to continually and loudly tie Romney to the last Republican President (if only!!!). Our "national discourse" certainly has been dumbed down in order to fit into a 30-second sound bite, but I can't really say that THAT has been reflected by voters. Yet.
    Personally, I don't believe voters have forgotten who was in the WH from 2001 to 2009; none of those I talk to about politics, on either side, certainly have! What the President, and ALL Democrats running for national office, have to do then is keep reminding voters of that. Which, as best as I can tell, they are. If that's not enough, and voters' memories ARE that short, then we are indeed in trouble.
    Remember, it took nearly thirty years to "rehabilitate" Herbert Hoover to the point where his name could even be brought up at a Republican Convention. I take the "disappearing" of GWB in this year's Convention to be a very good sign. If Republicans don't dare mention him, for whatever reason, then ANY reference on the campaign trail by Democrats of GWB tying him to Romney should re-awaken enough memories.
    Bad memories. Really, really bad memories...

  • AMS on October 18, 2012 7:27 PM:

    I fear the five-point plan. It may be bogus, it may be purely aspirational, it may be just a conservative wish list---but people hear it and nod because it helps them impose order on messy reality and conveys the impression that Romney has it together and knows where he wants to take the country. I hope Obama comes up with something concrete (late though it is---remember Mitt just unveiled his five-point plan two weeks ago) that the undecided can grab onto. We on this site can make fun of Mitt's "plan" all we want to, but it is dangerous.

  • Anonymous on October 18, 2012 7:36 PM:

    Personally, I don't believe voters have forgotten who was in the WH from 2001 to 2009; none of those I talk to about politics, on either side, certainly have!

    Then you don't live out here in Yokel country. If you did, you'd see any number of vehicles sporting the Dubya "Do you miss me yet?" bumper sticker on any given day.

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