Mr. Keller thinks that, with his help and advice, there might be a “Presidential Mitt.” He offers up a laundry list of what Mitt Romney can say in Monday night’s debate to sound like a credible commander in chief. The odd thing is that all of the things that he suggests Money Boo Boo espouse are things that President Obama is doing… Prof. Krugman, in “The Secret of Our Non-Success,” says the Romney camp denies and distorts the evidence about how we recover from a severe financial crisis. Here’s Mr. Keller:
In the closing weeks of debates, rallies and advertising, Mitt Romney has reinvented himself, or re-re-reinvented himself, as a technocrat with a heart. Gone from the stage is the ideologue he portrayed in his quest for the nomination. Some see the current rendering as the authentic Mitt. Others see a soulless opportunist. My own suspicion is that Romney has the instincts of a center-right pragmatist, but that if elected he will be hostage to the same far-right forces he kowtowed to in the primaries.
Monday night, in the only debate devoted to foreign policy, he has a chance to put the finishing touches on this latest, less extreme version of himself.
On foreign policy Romney has sometimes displayed the worst aspects of neocon and neophyte. On the particulars his policy playbook is hard to distinguish from President Obama’s, but on the stump we often get the swagger of a freedom-agenda cowboy combined with a gift for gaffe.
This is not, of course, a foreign-policy election, but voters want a threshold level of competence and judgment. Romney’s goal tonight is to set a tone and an agenda that wins the respect of those who pay attention to the subject (and who will write the next-day appraisals) while reassuring the broader electorate that he can be trusted with our security.
I’d describe myself as a qualified admirer of President Obama’s foreign policy. It is reactive and rarely inspiring, but judicious and flexible. Romney shows little instinct for a dangerously complex world. But in the spirit of nonpartisanship, here’s my advice to the challenger.
GO EASY ON BENGHAZI Governor, in one of the few foreign-policy moments of the second debate, the discussion of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, you blew an opportunity to cast doubt on Obama’s record as the scourge of terrorists. Your problem was not the argument over when the president identified the attack as an act of terror. Your real mistake was playing political gotcha with a national tragedy. You turned a fair question into a cheap shot, and you got your comeuppance. This time, try to remember that you are not campaigning for a job at The Weekly Standard.
SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT THE PALESTINIANS Everyone knows you are devoted to the security of Israel. But if, as you told the audience at Virginia Military Institute earlier this month, you are committed to work for a democratic Palestinian state, you have to get past some big obstacles of your own making: your slavish affection for Bibi Netanyahu, your private assertion to donors in the infamous video that Palestinian statehood was “almost unthinkable,” your suggestion that there is something defective in Palestinian “culture.” Why not tip your hat to the moderate modernizers like Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the president and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, who have struggled, despite the intransigence of Israel and the intransigents in their own ranks, to tamp down the violence and build the rudiments of a state? It might not maximize your Jewish support in Florida, but it would enhance your credibility as a peacemaker, currently nonexistent.
AND WHILE YOU ARE AT IT, EXTEND A HAND TO MOHAMED MORSI He may be a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he is Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and he’s torn between the forces of virulent Islamism and tolerant secularism. He needs, and may respond to, our help and encouragement. Morsi is nobody’s idea of a model democrat, but he has stood by Egypt’s treaty with Israel, called for the overthrow of Syria’s murderous regime, and seems to want good relations with the U.S. And in Egypt the likely alternative is much worse. This won’t tip any swing states into your column, but it won’t hurt, and it would be, pardon the expression, presidential.
CONCEDE THAT THE WAR IN IRAQ WAS A MISTAKE You have a case to make that Obama quit Iraq badly (and that he risks doing the same in Afghanistan). But you lack standing to make that case. You endorsed the war, and one of your main foreign policy mentors, Dan Senor, was complicit in the worst failures of the occupation. Admitting that you were wrong is not easy. (Trust me.) But I think voters would respect something along these lines: “Like most Americans I supported President Bush’s decision to intervene in Iraq. That was a mistake. It distracted us from the more important mission in Afghanistan, and on top of that we botched the occupation. But we should learn from our mistakes, not run from them. And President Obama was in such a hurry to get out that he left Iraq in serious danger of a civil war that could do as much harm as Saddam Hussein ever did.”
DON’T RUSH INTO SYRIA A lot of voters — including this one — agonize about how to deal with the civil war in Syria. We are horrified by the humanitarian catastrophe and would rejoice in the downfall of a monstrous regime. But (unlike some of your neocon cheerleaders), we are wary of being drawn into another regional war, or making matters worse by unleashing sectarian reprisals or empowering a Syrian version of the Taliban. Your proposal to arm the rebels carries a real risk that those weapons will be turned on us. Resist the temptation to be too bold: “President Obama is right to be cautious about Syria. It is an immensely complicated, dangerous problem that menaces half a dozen other states in the region. But on Syria, as on so many other problems around the globe, the president’s response to a complicated problem has been to turn away, to play it down. I have no intention of taking America to war in Syria, but the best way to avoid that is not to sit back while the situation deteriorates. As president I will invite Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, other NATO leaders and our Arab allies to Camp David for an urgent summit aimed at bringing the Syrian civil war, and the Assad regime, to an end.”
OPEN THE DOOR TO A DEAL WITH IRAN On the subject of Iran’s nuclear program, you have been all bluster. You attacked Obama for offering to negotiate, when it was precisely that willingness — foolishly rebuffed by Tehran — that earned the president sufficient credibility to enlist a broad alliance behind really tough sanctions. In the past you have said Iran should be denied not only nuclear weapons but the right to enrich uranium for civilian uses, a deal-killer. Most important, you sound not just ready to use force, but eager. Now there is talk of one-to-one negotiations. Tell us that as president you would plan to bargain from strength, but bargain seriously. And don’t take civilian enrichment off the table.
APPLY SOME BAIN RIGOR TO DEFENSE Your proudest credential for the presidency is that you have worked in the private sector, turning bloated enterprises into models of efficiency and productivity. The one place you have failed to capitalize on that is our national defense. On the contrary, you have advocated that the military be guaranteed a minimum of 4 percent of our national wealth. You’ve got it backward: “Here’s your money, now what do you need?” The better Romney line: “I will not stint on national security or shortchange the men and women who serve their country. But I will apply the discipline I learned in the private sector to make sure our defense dollars are spent wisely. The U.S. military will be a lean, mean fighting machine.”
COOL IT ON CHINA You wouldn’t be the first candidate to pummel China on the campaign trail and make nice in the White House. But the stridency of your protectionist rhetoric — your promise to formally label China a currency manipulator, clearing the way for a tariff war — makes many of your supporters cringe. O.K., blaming China is a time-tested applause line. But you’ll sound smarter if before you start the spanking you try this: “A prosperous China is good for America. It is a market for our exports, a source of capital, a moderating force.”
In short, I advise you to demonstrate that you understand the world is a complex, unpredictable, subtle and rapidly metamorphosing place. Obama won’t be expecting that. Frankly, neither will I.
What a crock. Now here’s Prof. Krugman:
The U.S. economy finally seems to be recovering in earnest, with housing on the rebound and job creation outpacing growth in the working-age population. But the news is good, not great — it will still take years to restore full employment — and it has been a very long time coming. Why has the slump been so protracted?
The answer — backed by overwhelming evidence — is that this is what normally happens after a severe financial crisis. But Mitt Romney’s economic team rejects that evidence. And this denialism bodes ill for policy if Mr. Romney wins next month.
About the evidence: The most famous study is by Harvard’s Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, who looked at past financial crises and found that such crises are typically followed by years of high unemployment and weak growth. Later work by economists at the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere confirmed this analysis: crises that followed a sharp run-up in private-sector debt, from the U.S. Panic of 1893 to the Swedish banking crisis of the early 1990s, cast long shadows over the economy’s future. There was no reason to believe that this time would be different.
This isn’t an after-the-fact rationalization. The Reinhart-Rogoff “aftermath” paper was released almost four years ago. And a number of other economists, including, well, me, issued similar warnings. In early 2008 I was already pointing out the distinction between recessions like 1973-5 or 1981-2, brought on by high interest rates, and “postmodern” recessions brought on by private-sector overreach. And I suggested that the recession we were then entering would be followed by a prolonged “jobless recovery” that would feel like a continuing recession.
Why is recovery from a financial crisis slow? Financial crises are preceded by credit bubbles; when those bubbles burst, many families and/or companies are left with high levels of debt, which force them to slash their spending. This slashed spending, in turn, depresses the economy as a whole.
And the usual response to recession, cutting interest rates to encourage spending, isn’t adequate. Many families simply can’t spend more, and interest rates can be cut only so far — namely, to zero but not below.
Does this mean that nothing can be done to avoid a protracted slump after a financial crisis? No, it just means that you have to do more than just cut interest rates. In particular, what the economy really needs after a financial crisis is a temporary increase in government spending, to sustain employment while the private sector repairs its balance sheet. And the Obama administration did some of that, blunting the severity of the financial crisis. Unfortunately, the stimulus was both too small and too short-lived, partly because of administration errors but mainly because of scorched-earth Republican obstruction.
Which brings us to the politics.
Over the past few months advisers to the Romney campaign have mounted a furious assault on the notion that financial-crisis recessions are different. For example, in July former Senator Phil Gramm and Columbia’s R. Glenn Hubbard published an op-ed article claiming that we should be having a recovery comparable to the bounceback from the 1981-2 recession, while a white paper from Romney advisers argues that the only thing preventing a rip-roaring boom is the uncertainty created by President Obama.
Obviously, Republicans like claiming that it’s all Mr. Obama’s fault, and that electing Mr. Romney would magically make everything better. But nobody should believe them.
For one thing, these people have a track record: back in 2008, when serious students of history were already predicting a prolonged slump, Mr. Gramm was dismissing America as a “nation of whiners” experiencing a mere “mental recession.” For another, if Mr. Obama is the problem, why is the United States actually doing better than most other advanced countries?
The main point, however, is that the Romney team is willfully, nakedly, distorting the record, leading Ms. Reinhart and Mr. Rogoff — who aren’t affiliated with either campaign — to protest against “gross misinterpretations of the facts.” And this should worry you.
Look, economics isn’t as much of a science as we’d like. But when there’s overwhelming evidence for an economic proposition — as there is for the proposition that financial-crisis recessions are different — we have the right to expect politicians and their advisers to respect that evidence. Otherwise, they’ll end up making policy based on fantasies rather than grappling with reality.
And once politicians start refusing to acknowledge inconvenient facts, where does it stop? Why, the next thing you know Republicans will start rejecting the overwhelming evidence for man-made climate change. Oh, wait.