I missed this when it happened last week, but it appears that during an extended interview with Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney managed to fastidiously lay multiple bundles of high explosive around the foundations of his own economic policy arguments, retreat to a not-very-safe distance, press the plunger and bring the whole thing crashing down around him, revealing his public stance to be the glib, opportunistic sham that it is, with hardly anyone – least of all the interviewer – noticing a thing.
I only found out after being cross-linked through Charles Pierce’s blog at Esquire, where he documents the exchange as follows:
Halperin: Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?
Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.
I then picked up the thread when Jonathan Chait jumped on Romney in his piece in the New York Magazine:
Of course! Romney says this as if it’s completely obvious that reducing the deficit in the short term would throw the economy back into recession, even though he and his party have been arguing the opposite case with hysterical fervor. Republicans have committed themselves to Austrian economic notions and other hoary doctrines justifying the position that reducing deficits is a helpful way out of a liquidity trap.
I’ve thought that this represents primarily a case of self-delusion in the cause of political self-interest, as opposed to conscious cynicism: Republicans understood that bigger deficits would spur faster growth and reduce their chances of regaining power, so they found themselves more persuaded by theories suggesting bigger deficits wouldn’t really help. But if they had really converted to this belief, wouldn’t there be even a tiny bit of wailing about Romney’s open endorsement of Keynesianism? It’s not as if conservatives have been shy about holding his feet to the fire when he expresses some tiny deviation from their position. Yet I have noticed zero conservative complaints about Romney’s big fat wet kiss to John Maynard Keynes, which suggests their level of actual devotion to this position borders on nil.
It really does take a special kind of nerve – or else just the realisation that he can be a completely convictionless politician and change his public statements to suit the political mood without ever, ever suffering significant fallout – to execute this kind of 180-degree U-turn in a televised interview, and expect to get away with it.
Aside from revealing an important truth about what a Romney administration would actually do were he to win the election, it also demonstrates a total contempt for his supporters, some of whom he must know actually believe that he will take the immediate and drastic action to balance the federal budget that he still promises in his attacks on President Obama.
What a man.