The Washington Post

The amnesia candidate

Mitt Romney, during his big speech today in Lansing, Michigan:

I propose an entirely different course, a new course — unlike anything of our past. It will draw on the creativity and invention of the world’s most innovative citizenry. Government will be the partner, not the master....
The President is trying to breathe life into the failed policies of the past. We’ve got to instead invigorate the spirit of free people and free enterprises with a new vision for the future.

RNC spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi, in a recent exchange with a reporter about Romney’s approach to the economy:

REPORTER: Now, how different is that concept from what were the policies of the Bush administration? ... Is this a different program or is this that program just updated?
FRANCESCHI: I think it’s that program, just updated.

This isn’t just a gotcha. It goes right to the heart of what this whole campaign is all about.

The big danger for Obama is the possibility that swing voters will accept the basic premise of Romney’s candidacy — that his success in the private sector shows he possesses basic leadership qualities and a talent for turning around troubled enterprises that can be applied to a whole country. Obama’s rebuttal is that Romney amounts to more than whatever aura of competence he manages to project; he is offering a set of policies, priorities, and ideas about the economy that we’ve already tried and that have already failed.

Romney’s big speech today was all about obscuring this. In addition to repeatedly proclaiming his approach is unlike anything we’ve tried before, he repeatedly claimed that Obama is the candidate who embodies the failed policies of the past — an effort to muddy the waters around what is increasingly becoming the central argument of the campaign.

But Ezra Klein recently compared Bush’s platform in 2000 with Romney’s proposals 12 years later. He concluded that when it comes to entitlement reform, tax cuts, and spending cuts, Bush and Romney "mostly coalesced around the same set of ideas.”

A recent Paul Krugman column described Romney as “the amnesia candidate.” Krugman argued (as have I) that Romney’s candidacy is premised on the bet that the American people will forget just how awful an economic mess Obama inherited after eight years of Bush policies. Krugman concluded that Romney is “hoping that you don’t remember how badly those policies worked.” It’s worse than that; Romney is hoping you don’t remember those policies at all.

Romney’s speech today was perhaps his most ambitious effort yet to foment the hoped-for mass amnesia that is so central to his hopes of being president.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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