This, potentially, is one of those campaign moments that's worth remembering. Mitt Romney gave a speech in Lansing, Mich., yesterday that opened a new line of attack on Obama, and it's a pretty clever one: Bill Clinton, he said, updated and moderated the Democratic Party, and Obama has rejected Clintonism and gone back to the lugubrious days of Walter Mondale. Money quotes:
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 percent of the economy, and if Obamacare is installed, it will reach almost 50 percent.
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.
I do give credit to whoever thought up this line of attack. This will sound plausible on its face to lots of people, because Obama passed two big bills (stimulus and health care) that can be made to sound like old-style liberalism. It's a really smart approach to independent voters on every level—most important, it could affirm to those voters the notion that Romney really is a centrist, and they can stop worrying about those crazy things he said when he had those hellhounds on his trail named Perry, Cain, Santorum, etc.
Of course not a word of it is actually true when you get down to the inconvenient level of facts. Ed Kilgore did a nice job of shredding the argument on his blog, and you should give Ed a click, but basically:
1. Clinton of course attempted major health-care reform. He just happened to fail at it, so it can't be hung around his neck. Not only that, but the Clinton plan was, on paper, to the left of the Obama plan, which more closely resembles the Republican alternative to the Clinton plan.
2. In what way is Obama "trying tirelessly to expand the welfare state to all Americans"? In no way. You see for yourself that that paragraph just consists of flabby and general rhetoric that kinda sorta sounds believable. It's obviously true that Obama wants "more spending" than the House Republicans, but that means nothing, and to Romney, all spending—investment in rural broadband, in innovation, whatever—is welfare.
3. At another point in the speech, Romney says Obama "wants to increase the marginal tax rate paid by the most successful small businesses from 35 percent to 40 percent." First of all, this is not true. The proposal is to raise the marginal rate on every dollar earned above $1 million per year in households that reach that level. But more important, he somehow forgets to mention that this 40 percent rate (actually 39.6) is the rate...put into law by the Clinton administration!
4. This leaves the stimulus, which indeed is one big-government thing Obama did that Clinton didn't. Romney clearly intends to leave his listeners with the impression that Clinton would shake his head in sad disapproval of all these big-government Obama moves. Indeed, Clinton was disappointed by the 2009 stimulus—because it wasn't big enough.
Keep an eye out for how quickly Big Dog gets out there to answer this pile of lies, and watch for other Romney rapprochements to the center. The Democrats' main job this election season, in a nutshell, is to keep Romney out on the plank he walked during the primaries.