Here is the most implausible scenario in presidential history: Nearly four years after voters vented their rage over fiscal, domestic and foreign policies that had wrecked the U.S. and world economies, the country is poised to elect a candidate who promises a return to all those policies.
Mitt Romney thinks his taxes, at 14 percent, are too high, and his remedy for the stagnant job market is to slash the taxes of rich investors like himself even more and make up for it by sharply cutting spending on programs for the poor and middle class. He vows to repeal the restraints that Congress and President Obama placed on financial houses whose recklessness and greed destroyed people's livelihoods and hopes. If you give financiers a free hand to make money like they did in the past decade, he says, this time the manna will rain upon all of us.
Abroad, Romney embraces Dick Cheney's policies of taking it to the Muslims, wherever they are, with tough threats and bold risks for new and more dangerous wars. Voters repudiated John McCain four years ago for exactly those threats and for standing firmly behind George W. Bush's foreign policies.
Romney is different from Bush, who fathered all those policies, in two glaring ways. Though they share a penchant for stunning gaffes, Romney has none of Bush's frat-boy likeability. And he doesn't share Bush's stubborn adherence to principles, honorable or misguided. No politician in memory has reversed himself like Romney on nearly every issue of consequence or been as willing to take any stand that might round up a few votes — like his praise this week for everything Israeli, including its tightly run government health service for all.
Still, he's an even bet to win the presidency and to take with him a congressional party equally committed to all the policies of the Bush-Cheney decade.
Why that will have happened will be the subject of intense historical analysis long after the country discovers the results of its third or fourth experiment with trickle-down economics and its second with showing the Arabs and Iranians who's boss. How did the Democrats and Barack Obama, who reaped the spoils of the public wrath in 2008, let it happen? Why wait for the analysis? We saw it coming. There will be a thousand explanations, but the three big ones have already been thoroughly analyzed, here among other places.
If Romney wins it will be because too many people still don't have jobs, which depresses the employed and the jobless alike. The economy was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month and heading into a depression in January 2009 when Barack Obama decided that a quick stimulus of $750 billion, more than a third of it tax cuts, was all that Republicans and some in his own party would stand for.
All the highway and infrastructure work and the big infusion of Medicaid and local job assistance did prime the pump and stall the freefall in Arkansas, but nationally it needed to be far bigger to overcome the housing depression. The president seemed to know that, but he was persuaded that the public alarm over the $1.4 trillion addition to the debt that the Bush administration itself was forecasting for that year could not be assuaged. It was the biggest blunder of his administration, although who can surmise now that Congress would have approved a stimulus of the magnitude that was needed?
The second and third were Obama's failure to sell his works to the people — the historic health-insurance reform and then all the other achievements that were barely noticed, hardly proclaimed and now unremembered. An ABC-Washington Post poll in January showed that 52 percent of people, when asked what Barack Obama had accomplished responded nothing or little.
The magnitude of the achievements, in laws, executive decisions and foreign affairs, exceed those of the first term of every president in the past century except Roosevelt and Johnson. Besides the biggest economic stimulus since the Depression and the still reviled universal health insurance, itself a goal of 10 prior presidents, here are the notable ones: sweeping regulations of Wall Street to prevent another banking collapse and bailout, tough new consumer protections on the credit-card industry, bold reform of student aid, an end to Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, a new START treaty with Russia, a big expansion of national service, a big increase in protection of American wilderness, an end to the war in Iraq, a new terrorist strategy in Afghanistan that killed Osama bin Laden and most of the al Qaeda leadership, a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, tightened sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, military and commercial alliances in the Pacific to curb China's growing power ...
His failure to sell them, especially the health reforms, constitutes a stunning failure of will and judgment for a man who had shown a magical gift for messaging in 2008.
His strange lapse on health reform, where he left the field to the propaganda machine of insurance and pharmaceutical industries, right-wing interests and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to tell the American people what Obamacare did, was the blueprint. He had asked Congress — both houses and parties — to undertake reforms of health reform, banking and credit-card regulation, student aid and the rest, and he seemed to expect Congress to sell them.
It doesn't work that way.