Compelling piece by Paul Krugman in the New York Times today. Generally I severely dislike Krugman because he is an ideologue over whom faux liberal intellectuals swoon. But his point is worth bearing in mind: "The truth is that Mr. Romney is so deeply committed to insincerity that neither side can trust him to do what it considers to be the right thing." Click here or scroll down to read.
Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.
The right’s ideology police were, predictably, aghast; the Club for Growth quickly denounced the statement as showing that Mr. Romney is “not a limited-government conservative.” On the contrary, insisted the club, “If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.”
And a Romney spokesman tried to walk back the remark, claiming, “The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around.”
But that’s not what the candidate said, and it’s very unlikely that it’s what he meant. Almost surely, he is, in fact, a closet Keynesian.
How do we know this? Well, for one thing, Mr. Romney is not a stupid man. And while his grasp of world affairs does sometimes seem shaky, he has to be aware of the havoc austerity policies are wreaking in Greece, Ireland and elsewhere.
Beyond that, we know who he turns to for economic advice; heading the list are Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University and N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard. While both men are loyal Republican spear-carriers — each served for a time as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers — both also have long track records as professional economists. And what these track records suggest is that neither of them believes any of the propositions that have become litmus tests for would-be G.O.P. presidential candidates.
Consider Mr. Mankiw, in particular. Modern Republicans detest Keynes; Mr. Mankiw is the editor of a collection of papers titled “New Keynesian Economics.” In an early edition of his best-selling textbook, he dismissed supply-side economics — the doctrine embraced by the sainted Ronald Reagan — as the creation of “charlatans and cranks.” And, in 2009, he called for higher inflation as a solution to the economic crisis, a position anathema to Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, who warn ominously about the evil of “debasing” our currency.
Given his advisers, then, it seems safe to assume that what Mr. Romney blurted out Tuesday reflected his real economic beliefs — as opposed to the nonsense he pretends to believe, because it’s what the Republican base wants to hear.
And therein lies the reason Mr. Romney acts the way he does, why he is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.
For he is. Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?
As I see it, it comes down to the cynicism underlying the whole enterprise. Once you’ve decided to hide your beliefs and say whatever you think will get you the nomination, to pretend to agree with people you privately believe are fools, why worry at all about truth?
What this diagnosis implies, of course, is that the many people on the right who don’t trust Mr. Romney, who don’t believe that he’s truly committed to their political faith, are correct in their suspicions. He’s playing a role, and it’s anyone’s guess what lies beneath the mask.
So should those who don’t share the right’s faith be comforted by the evidence that Mr. Romney doesn’t believe anything he’s saying? Should we, in particular, assume that, once elected, he would actually follow sensible economic policies? Alas, no.
For the cynicism and lack of moral courage that have been so evident in the campaign wouldn’t suddenly vanish once Mr. Romney entered the Oval Office. If he doesn’t dare disagree with economic nonsense now, why imagine that he would become willing to challenge that nonsense later? And bear in mind that if elected, he would be watched like a hawk for signs of apostasy by the very people he’s trying so desperately to appease right now.
The truth is that Mr. Romney is so deeply committed to insincerity that neither side can trust him to do what it considers to be the right thing.