The Speech That Would End Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 2 2012 10:01 AM

The Speech That Would End Mitt Romney's Presidential Campaign

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A child waves as she is held by her mom before US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado, on October 1, 2012.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

David Brooks has a column out urging Mitt Romney to deliver an opening statement at the presidential debate on the economy that, if delivered, would rightly lose him the vote of basically everyone.

Brooks' centerpiece idea is that Romney should completely ignore the short-term jobs disaster, and in fact explicitly—and falsely—state that "there's no magic lever" the federal government can deploy to boost employment in a deeply depressed economy. Having promised to not deliver robust economic recovery, Brooks wants Romney to make the core of his economic agenda . . . tax hikes! Specifically the exact tax hikes Obama has been trying to get Republicans to agree to. Brooks' pitch is essentially that we need to elect a Republican president in order to swindle a Republican congress into enacting Obama's policy ideas:

The second reason there’s been no budget compromise is that Republicans have been too rigid, refusing to put revenue on the table. I’ve been part of the problem. But, globally, the nations that successfully trim debt have raised $1 in new revenue for every $3 in spending cuts. I will bring Republicans around to that position. There’s no way President Obama can do that.
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Brooks tries to obscure how bizarre that advice is by masking it in several paragraphs worth of slightly unfair characterizations of Obama's skills as a negotiator, but the fact of the matter is that this is exactly what Obama's been proposing. Maybe Brooks is right and congressional Republicans are so insipid that they'll pivot and agree to Obama's proposal once it becomes "Romney's proposal" (though that seems wrong to me, see GOP revolts against Bush I on taxes and Bush II on immigration) but it's still bizarre to be centering your agenda on long-term deficit reduction at a time of negative real interest rates. It was bizarre when Obama made this his agenda in 2011 and it'd be doubly bizarre for Romney to campaign on Obama's failed 2011 economic agenda.

Then to gild the lilly, Brooks tosses off random inaccurate facts like "The economy in 2012 is worse than the economy in 2011" and assets that if Obama gets re-elected "the lesson will be: Never Touch Medicare. No Democrat or Republican will dare reform the system" even though Obama touched Medicare and reformed the system in his first term already.

If I were Romney, I'd give practically the reverse speech focusing on the president's strange obsession with raising taxes. It used to be that I thought Democrats wanted to raise taxes because they love big spending. At least, that's how they did it in Massachusetts. But this president loves tax increases so much he was eager to betray his own party and slash Medicare spending in order to get them. A Romney administration doesn't think you bolster a depressed economy with higher taxes. Heck, you can even ask Paul Krugman! I understand ideological disagreements, but this is an administration that just doesn't get it. Let's extend the Bush tax cuts, let's extend the payroll tax cuts, and let's work on revenue-neutral pro-growth reform for the long term. But in the short-term, why not try to make taxes even lower? This administration keeps trying to "stimulate" the economy with unemployment benefits and food stamps to help people get by when they can't find jobs. Why not deploy that money cutting taxes on work and business investment? I don't think struggling Americans want more SNAP benefits, I think they want to work.

That's not a bulletproof economic agenda, but it makes more sense that what Brooks is proposing and even better actually reflects conservative ideas!

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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