Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Reset to Massachusetts moderate: Romney fondly recalls Bill Clinton

The GOP may finally be getting a little tired of embracing Ronald Reagan's corpse. This election season, Bill Clinton is becoming their icon.

Throughout the debates, Gingrich bragged repeatedly of balancing budgets and creating jobs "with President Clinton."  You'd have thought Gingrich was Clinton's veep.

Now Mitt Romney's latest chosen trope for painting Obama as an old-line liberal is a faux contrast with that great small-government Democrat...Bill Clinton.  In Lansing, Michigan today, this is how Romney cast Obama as a pre-Reagan Democrat:
President Obama chose to apply liberal ideas of the past to a 21st century America.  Liberal policies didn’t work then, they haven’t worked over the last four years, and they won’t work in the future. New Democrats had abandoned those policies, but President Obama resurrected them, with predictable results.

President Clinton said the era of big government was over. President Obama brought it back with a vengeance. Government at all levels now constitutes 38% of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50%.

President Clinton made efforts to reform welfare as we knew it. President Obama is trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans, with promises of more programs, more benefits, and more spending.

Old-school liberals saw a problem and thought a government-run program was the answer. Obamacare is the fulfillment of their dreams.  Federal bureaucrats will tell all Americans what they have to have in their health insurance policies. And an unelected board will tell seniors what treatments Medicare will cover....

The liberals of the past raised taxes, often with little thought of how they would hurt small business, and the economy. Like them, President Obama proposes to raise the tax on small business. He wants to increase the marginal tax rate paid by the most successful small businesses from 35% to 40%. It’s a throwback to discredited policies, and it will kill jobs. 
The ironies underlying this tissue of distortions are so intense they could corrode iridium. Let's first dispense with the absolute falsehoods. Government spending has increased only temporarily under Obama as a result of the Great Recession and only marginally as a result of his policies.  For the future, he has agreed to spending caps that will bring federal discretionary spending to its lowest level in 50 years.  Romney gets his "almost 50%" figure by counting spending on private health insurance under Obamacare as "spending under federal control"  -- a ridiculous distortion that would doubtless make state spending growth in Massachusetts on his watch look just as dramatic.  It's also untrue that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) for Medicare created by the ACA will "tell seniors what treatments Medicare will cover." IPAB is explicitly prohibited from rationing care. The scope of its recommendations is tightly constrained, limited to formulae for paying healthcare providers.

Now for the ironies.  Romney equates Obamacare with complete government control over healthcare and a massive increase in citizens' dependency on government, dramatically contrasted with Good Democrat Clinton's welfare reform (which, as the Times recently documented, has caused widespread misery since the Great Recession hit). Obmacare is, of course, a) a clone of Romneycare and b) a descendent of Clinton's failed attempt at healthcare reform, albeit closer in design to alternatives to Clinton's plan floated by GOP senators than to Clinton's plan itself.  Add that Obama's main proposed tax hike would simply restore the top rate that Clinton rammed through a unanimous Republican stonewall, while Obama has accepted reductions to all other marginal rates that Bush imposed on the Clinton tax schedule.  Not to mention that under that dread 40% top rate (actually 39%), the U.S. economy added 20 million new jobs over Clinton's two terms, while Romney suggests that such an old-school-liberal tax hike is inevitably job-killing.

Of course, Romney's presentation of his own plans for economic revival lack even the mendacious specificity of his characterization of Obama's plans.  There is no mention of the 20% income tax cuts that will yield an average of $250,000 yearly for those making over $1 million per year; of the as-yet-unspecified tax loophole closures that Romney promises to find to make those cuts revenue neutral; or of the massive cuts to domestic programs necessitated by his refusal to raise new revenue or cut defense spending.  The only positive program offered is a vague allusion to "pro-growth regulations, pro-growth taxes, pro-growth intellectual property protections, and pro-growth labor policies." That means gutting regulation, gutting Medicare and domestic discretionary spending, and gutting labor protections.

As he shakes the Etch-A-Sketch, Romney dares not tell the American people as a whole what he has planned for them. He will play on the vague impression that he is a moderate, evoking models of moderation like Clinton while soft-pedalling the extremist agenda to which he's committed himself.  Note too that in keeping with this self-moderating reset he has somewhat toned down his criticism of Obama. This speech casts the President more as someone who can't pull us out of a ditch than as someone leading us over a cliff. And pulling over to offer effective roadside assistance is actually an act that Romney may play rather well. In private life, it seems he is that kind of guy.

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