“They want to go back to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place,” railed former President Bill Clinton to an adoring crowd in Charlotte last week. That is President Obama’s central argument for re-election: that the economic misery, record unemployment, record debt and abysmal growth that has marred Obama’s term is not his fault. Rather, it’s the fault of Republican policies — tax cuts, deregulation and defense spending — that Mitt Romney wants to return to.
The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel calls that argument “bizarre.” She’s absolutely right. In an effort to duck responsibility for our persistent economic woes, President Obama and other Democrats peddle a completely false narrative to explain the 2008 financial crisis that Obama promised to fix. And who better to trumpet a false narrative than Bill Clinton, who has a special gift for doing so while looking us straight in the eye, jabbing his finger and pulling off an utterly convincing impersonation of righteous indignation.
Unable to run on his record, the president’s only path to a second term is paved entirely with false narratives. Romney and his supporters must counter these false narratives with concise, easy-to-state, easy-to-grasp rebuttals:
False Narrative No. 1: Romney would return us to the “same old” Bush policies that got us into this mess.
This is a false narrative “two-fer,” because (a) Romney is not proposing to return us to President George W. Bush’s policies and (b) the Bush policies that Clinton complained of are not what got us into this mess.
First Rebuttal: Romney would not return us to Bush’s policies. Bush used tax cuts to help us overcome the economic shock of 9/11. Romney is proposing comprehensive tax reform — eliminating deductions so tax rates can be lowered and the tax base can be broadened. Although the details are different, Romney’s general approach is identical to that proposed by President Obama’s own debt reduction commission — the commission that Obama has ignored.
Second Rebuttal: The financial crisis was caused by the housing bubble, which was fueled by government pressure on banks to lend to the less creditworthy. No president was more responsible for the housing bubble than Bill Clinton. Investor’s Business Daily calls Clinton “the architect of the financial crisis,” and likened him to a “housing arsonist” now trying to pass himself off as a “heroic firefighter.” Obama likes to blame the financial crisis on deregulation. But the deregulation legislation in question was signed into law by Clinton, who also refused to regulate the complex financial instruments that helped transform the housing crisis into a financial crisis.
Third Rebuttal: Obama rejects the pro-growth tax reform favored by Romney and by Obama’s own debt commission. Instead, he wants to raise taxes. But President Obama himself used to say that the “last thing you want to do is raise taxes” in a down economy. Bill Clinton used to say that too. And they were right: Ernst & Young estimates that Obama’s tax proposals will cost us 710,000 jobs and will reduce wages, investment and economic output.
False Narrative No. 2: Romney, like Bush, would cut taxes only for the “rich.”
Rebuttal: Romney’s comprehensive tax reform plan would result in an across-the-board 20 percent tax rate reduction for all taxpayers. Romney’s tax rate on the middle class would be the lowest since the Great Depression. The Bush tax cuts, by the way, were also across-the-board cuts for all taxpayers.
False Narrative No. 3: We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when President Obama took office; his policies stopped the bleeding and put us on the path to recovery.
Rebuttal: Job losses in the last recession peaked at 741,000 (not 800,000) the month President Obama was sworn in. Job losses immediately started a steady decline when he took office, before the president even had the chance to pass his stimulus plan. The recession ended in June 2009, when stimulus spending had barely begun. Obama likes to imply that without his stimulus, we would have continued to hemorrhage jobs at the same rate that was occurring when he became president. The timeline proves otherwise; credit for reversing the damage more likely goes to the emergency measures put in place by Bush. But while Obama cannot take credit for ending the recession, he can certainly take credit for what liberal CBS News calls “the worst economic recovery that America has ever had.”