When speaking with some conservatives, I get the impression that what’s most important to them in the presidential election is defeating Barack Obama. With the job Obama has done while in office, I can understand that way of thinking. But if the goal is reducing the size and scope of the federal government, an anybody-but-Obama (or something approximating it) strategy does not seem a likely path to success.
I say that because when the economy begins to dip into a second recession, which it surely will when the Federal Reserve tightens its monetary policy on fears of price inflation (or even worse acquiesce to soaring price inflation), whoever is elected president will face the scorn of the voting public. That was the weakness the Tea Party-energized Republicans leveraged in 2010, when independents were skeptical of Obama’s performance at restoring the economy. When the economy does falter and were Mitt Romney — the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — in the Oval Office, would he likely do much better at delivering a credible case for reducing government involvement into the economy? Based on his performance in the Republican presidential primary, I would not think so.
If even there were a good reason to think that Romney were personally supportive of free market principles, there is a more fundamental reason that Romney would make a poor advocate for those principles. He is not capable of defending them or, at least, has not given much indication he would be able to up until now.
Someone might object that an economic downturn is less likely to happen if Romney is in office to enact his policies, and then it would be less important that Romney is incapable of credibly advocating for reducing the scope of government in the economy. Yet, as examination of Romney’s economic advisers reveals that they share the same conventional big government orthodoxy, RomneyCare is just further proof that the former governor’s policies would not substantially differ from Obama’s. Now if anyone would know, it would be the prominent Keynesian intellectual Paul Krugman.
Krugman’s criticism is that Romney is not more sincere with voters, who are properly skeptical of the motivations behind Romney’s economic platform. After one of Romney’s campaign stops, Krugman argued, “Given his advisers, then, it seems safe to assume that what Mr. Romney blurted out Tuesday [that reducing government spending hampers economic recovery] reflected his real economic beliefs.”
Romney would represent the worst of both worlds. He supports big government, economy-stifling policies but promotes them under the superficial guise of free market rhetoric. Repeating the same mistakes as faux-fiscal hawk Herbert Hoover, Romney’s rhetoric will have made a fool-proof argument for the economic interventionists that increased government action is needed to temper the downturn, just as what followed Hoover’s defeat was the greatest expansion of the federal government’s power in the 20th century when Franklin Roosevelt springboarded his predecessor’s policies to spawn the New Deal. Because of that, I think there is reason to dread that a Mitt Romney presidency could spell the same result.
Once the downturn begins, will voters favor free market policies or more central planning? With Romney in office, the answer is fairly certain who and what will get the blame. If any of the prominent presidential candidates could reverse the present course, it would be Ron Paul. He is uniquely qualified to articulate what is happening to the economy and how to mitigate the harm caused by prior policies. The other candidates from either major party have no plan to change fundamentally the government’s course from impending bankruptcy and slow-motion default, but Paul has made a career of challenging conventional wisdom and offering a guiding light through economic uncertainty.