Jonathan Chait

The Reasonable Mitt Romney

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Joe Klein, writing in Time, divides the Republican field between sensible moderates like Mitt Romney and nutty outsiders. Here's Mitt Romney being sane and wonky, according to Klein:

"Barack Obama has failed America," Mitt Romney said unequivocally at his first New Hampshire town meeting, repeating the signature line of his presidential-campaign announcement speech a day earlier. Unequivocal is not a word that traditionally has been associated with the former Massachusetts governor, but that was then, and the retooled edition of candidate Romney is much improved. He proceeded to lay out the economic case against Obama: 16 million out of work, home values collapsed, higher gas and food prices.

In other words, Obama is the grandson of Herbert Hoover and the son of Jimmy Carter. "He's tried," Romney said sorrowfully, a lock of his less-slick-than-last-time hair falling over his forehead. "[But] what he did simply was wrong. He extended the downturn and made it deeper ... How is it that President Obama was so wrong? I happen to think that in part he took his inspiration from Europe," Romney continued, citing a litany of Obama's proposals like deficit spending and "federalizing" health care. "He has been awfully European. [But] you know what? European policies don't work there. They sure as heck aren't going to work here. I believe in America! I believe in free enterprise. I believe in capitalism. I believe in the Constitution."

Well, O.K. It wasn't exactly exhilarating, but it was the best of all possible Mitt Romneys.

If this is "the best of all possible Romneys," then Romney is an ignorant demagogue. First of all, it's not correct that Obama "took his inspiration from Europe." He took his inspiration for his health care plan from Mitt Romney. He took his inspiration for the stimulus from a combination of Franklin Roosevelt and standard economics textbooks. As a pure analytic frame, the Europe charge is pure nonsense.

And it's an ugly, Nativist form of nonsense. Suppose it were true that Obama had taken inspiration from Europe. There are a lot of prosperous countries in Europe. Romney offers no argument as to why everything in Europe is bad other than U-S-A! U-S-A! Indeed, conservatives point to what they perceive as successful models in Europe and other countries all the time -- Chile, Russia, Singapore, Ireland, Estonia have all enjoyed star turns as American right-wing social models. Romney is exploiting cheap sentiment and playing upon fears of Obama as foreign, un-American, and working to undermine free enterprise. (Oddly enough, Obama's attack on free enterprise has resulted in record corporate profits.)

And this is the part of Romney's address that Klein was able to pluck out as evidence of his reasonableness!

I agree that somewhere, in his heart of hearts, Romney is an intelligent technocrat who's better than his campaign. But the plain fact is that the Mitt Romney who's running for president is sane and rational only by the standards of his crazed opposition -- which is to say, he isn't one.

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