Weak Spot

How Obama Can Really Hurt the GOP: Focus on Its Radical Economic Plan

The candidate’s ludicrous economic plans would turn America into one big Pottersville. By Michael Tomasky.

Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Three years ago, two years ago—heck, six months ago—I and a lot of people I know thought: Surely the jobs situation will have picked up as we round the clubhouse turn toward Election Day. I envisioned Barack Obama at the Democratic convention, being able to claim... something fairly modest, but something: three straight months of 200,000-plus-jobs growth. Some kind of hook for an upbeat narrative.

Well, it looks like it ain’t gonna happen. Obama will be able to make some claims, and he damn well better make them without apology or fear of how the 48th Street Fantasy Factory will spin them. But the story isn’t good enough, so there’s but one alternative: convince people that Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress will make things worse. In a rational world, that wouldn’t be too hard, because except for Ronald Reagan’s second term, making things worse is all Republicans have ever done since Nixon. But our world isn’t rational, and Obama is going to have to confront that fact in a huge way or risk being sent to the showers early.

It’s amazing, first of all, the importance now of these jobs numbers. Partly it’s because the economy is bad, true; but partly it’s also the blog-and-tweet, more-faster-now political culture. Romney was having an awful week—and, by the way, still did have an awful week. Those issues—the mandate confusion, Bain, the offshoring, the million-dollar IRA—aren’t going anywhere, and they’ll resurface. But obviously, they had to be relieved up in Boston when the 80,000-jobs number came out Friday morning. Big conversation changer.

It’s the third straight month of anemic growth, and the economists seem to agree that it means we’re not going to be seeing the bulls run any time soon. A decent unemployment picture—say, 170,000 jobs a month being gained, which might, by election time, have gotten the jobless rate back down below the 7.9 percent it was when Obama was sworn in—augured for one kind of Obama fall campaign. Emphasize that we’re finally getting out of the woods first, and bash Romney second.

But the treeline is still on the far horizon. So Obama and the Democrats’ No. 1 job is clear: tie all the Republicans together—Romney, congressional Republicans, and George W. Bush—and warn people about how much worse things could be.

Romney is Bush on steroids. His tax plan is far more extreme. He wants to give millionaires an average—average!—tax cut of $250,000. The same plan would add $3 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Haven’t we tried this before, and didn’t it help lead—along with massive deregulation, which Romney also promises to pursue—to the biggest meltdown in 80 years?

The radical tax plan and its affect on the deficit hasn’t stopped Romney from backing “cut, cap, and balance,” a congressional GOP plan that calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment! Imagine that chutzpah. It’d be as if I torched all my neighbors’ azaleas and then demanded we form a block-beautification committee. Cut, cap, and balance is so extreme, so ludicrous, that 35 GOP senators—a pretty hardened assemblage, you’ll agree—haven’t signed it. It’s out there in Tea Party land.

Want more hypocrisy? Glad you asked. Cut, cap, and balance requires gargantuan and immediate cuts to the federal budget. But remember what Romney told Time magazine in May?: “if you take a trillion dollars, for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.”

Then there’s the Ryan budget and assaults on Medicare. The fact that Romney has no actual jobs plan beyond letting the free market work its magic... It’s just endless. Complete and willful vacuity. Vacuity as a matter of principle. Almost virginal vacuity, as if intercourse with facts were somehow deflowering, leading to a lapsarian state of loss of ignorance. Nothing adds up at all. No attempt is made for things to add up. Except, of course, for those core items that Romney and the congressional Republicans will agree on: cut taxes for the rich, deregulate as much as possible, and re-wreck the economy.

It’s so bad it’s almost hard to believe. I mean this literally. Via Kevin Drum and Jon Chait, I note this nugget from Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece coming up Sunday. The Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, did some polling on Romney. Here’s one thing they found, and place your hand below your jaw, so you don’t hurt yourself as it hits the table: “For example, when Priorities informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan—and thus championed ‘ending Medicare as we know it’—while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

There’s some word beyond “perverse” for that—a politician benefiting from the fact that his plans and commitments are so radical that voters simply can’t believe he’d pursue them. That isn’t the only perversity at work here. As Greg Sargent noted on his blog Friday, you might think that when the jobs picture is unsatisfactory, the political debate would be about which candidate has better policies. But instead, it’s a “referendum on Obama.” This is dumb, especially when the other guy is running on such a nest of contradictions and obfuscations. But it’s how life is. I get that. Even so, it shouldn’t stop Obama from making it a co-referendum on Romney and the GOP. Obama’s Bedford Falls may have problems, but the GOP’s Pottersville—no General Motors, no Chrysler, no health care for 32 million, no public investment at all, no regulation of banks, and all the rest—is an ugly place where we don’t want to live.