Mitt Romney’s interview with Town Hall is getting a lot of attention over his repudiation of that super PAC’s plan to revive Jeremiah Wright, but now that the full transcript is available, there’s another Romney quote that’s worth a look:
“I think it’s very hard to tell exactly what the president would do, other than by looking at his record in his first three and a half or four years. And we can see where he took the nation in these years. It’s a massive expansion of federal spending, an expansion of the reach of the federal government, and there’s no question in my mind but that his Supreme Court nominees and his policies would be designed toward expanding the role of government in our lives. And frankly, America’s economy runs on freedom. And he has been attacking economic freedom from the first day he came into office.”
“America’s economy runs on freedom.” That’s perhaps the most perfectly distilled version of Romney’s economic plan we’ve seen yet.
The frame Romney is asking us to adopt is very simple: The Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is to entirely blame for your economic misery. To the extent that the economy has recovered, it has only happened in spite of Obama’s response, and it would have progressed far faster in the complete absence of that response.
What’s missing from this narrative is what, if anything, Romney would have done if he had been president in January of 2009, when the economy was on the brink of global meltdown. The implication of Romney’s remarks above is that doing nothing at all would have been preferable to what Obama did. I don’t know if Romney subscribes to quite this level of free market fundamentalism or not. But if America’s economy runs on the fuel of freedom alone, and everything Obama has done in office is an attack on freedom, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether Romney thinks the economy would have recovered faster, and would be recovering faster right now, if it had been allowed to recover entirely of its own accord, with no government interference or meddling of any kind.
And indeed Romney’s policy platform does call for rolling back Obama’s response to the crisis entirely, while not saying with any meaningful specificity what he would replace it with. He’s told us he’d replace Obama’s policies with “common sense reforms,” a phrase he’s applied both to Wall Street and health care reform, and, now, with “economic freedom.”
The political goal of all this, of course, is to make the campaign entirely about Obama, and not at all about what he would proactively do to create jobs, or about what he would have done proactively in response to the crisis, or about the similarities between his approach to the economy and that of George W. Bush, or even about the latter’s role in presiding over the meltdown that precipitated the economic free fall that Obama inherited upon taking office.
The game plan is to minimize the depth and severity of the crisis Obama inherited, while maximizing the depth and severity of the crisis Obama has presided over, and pin the blame for the latter entirely on the incumbent’s policies.
And so: has any reporter asked Romney what he would have done if he’d been president in January of 2009?