uring Tuesday's presidential debate, a woman asked Mitt Romney about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named: George W. Bush. Specifically, she asked Romney how he differs from the former Republican president. Romney, after trying to deflect the question, said, "President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times."
Romney is right about it being different times: When Bush took office in 2000, the U.S. was riding high on a $236 billion budget surplus — and according to the Chicago Tribune, when he left in 2008, the country was $407 billion in the hole. By the end of this year, the annual deficit is expected to reach $1.1 trillion.
But as Obama rightfully pointed out, when it comes to most policies, Romney and Bush are not so different.
The first part of Romney's save-the-economy plan is to promote small businesses by keeping tax cuts low for the wealthy. Romney likes to say that Obama's decision to let the Bush tax cuts expire will negatively impact the 3 percent of "small businesses" that employ half of all Americans who work in... small business. Not only is this statement seriously misleading — according to The New York Times, the "3 percent" includes major corporations that utilize loopholes — but it's also straight out of Bush's book.
As Election Day approaches, the real question is whether you think the GOP's old ideas can confront the new challenges of 2012.
Speaking at the 2008 Small Business Summit, Bush said that one way to help small businesses grow was to encourage Congress to make his tax cuts (for the rich) permanent. The Bush tax cuts, as the independent Tax Policy Center pointed out, make small businesses "worse off" because they raise the cost of capital for new investment and drive up interest rates, leading to decreased new investment.
Okay, but maybe you think this time the tax cuts will work. (Is Romney's winning smile convincing you? His charming "binder full of women"? I give up.) So let's move on to Romney's second Bush-era economic promise: Making the U.S. energy independent by focusing on domestic energy production.
There's nothing wrong with this idea — but Romney, like Bush, is missing the point. Take the Keystone XL pipeline, a symbol often used by the Romney campaign to attack Obama. If you ignore the pipeline's serious environmental problems — Keystone 1, a smaller pipeline, has leaked at least 14 times — there's still the issue that Keystone XL could raise gas prices by as much as 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest and elsewhere, according to Bloomberg.
Ultimately, the real focus needs to be on decreasing energy consumption. Bush had a pet project too: Drilling in Alaska. And like Romney, he promised to support ethanol and coal. This is the same old GOP trick we always hear — promise Americans they can guzzle all the oil they want, without having to pay for it, and without having to seek it abroad. Remember how that turned out?
Perhaps the most baffling rhetoric Romney is borrowing from Bush is his talk on defense spending. Romney is giving virtually the same speeches as Bush on bolstering American strength by pouring taxpayer dollars into the bottomless pit of defense. The whole reckless American cowboy military mentality wasn't cute under Bush — but in today's economy, it's also dangerous and unaffordable.
According to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, politicians advocating for military spending are neglecting to mention the "record earnings by large Pentagon contractors, the exorbitant executive salaries paid at these firms, [and] the billions of dollars lost to waste and mismanagement." The watchdog group has found $700 billion in military cuts that could be made over the next decade without compromising U.S. security.
So both Bush and Romney share a fondness for Cold War military spending, tax cuts for the rich, and domestic energy policy (not to mention cutting the deficit, somehow, and reducing government regulations). What differences do they actually have?
As Obama pointed out, Romney has gone to "a more extreme place on social policy... [Bush] never suggested we cut Planned Parenthood."
As Election Day approaches, the real question is not whether Romney has a plan to fix America, it's whether you think the GOP's old ideas can confront the new challenges of 2012. Romney seems to think so — and he's going to throw some family-planning clinics at the wall, to boot. Only the best for you, America.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why I'm a pro-life liberal
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
- How Ukraine can fend off the Russians, in 7 simple steps
- Israel and Russia are getting along. Have the neocons noticed?
- How to make homemade marshmallow Peeps
- These stunning travel photos remind us that we're all just amateurs with iPhones
Subscribe to the Week