Right Out of the Bush/Rove Playbook

Those of us who think this election is a referendum on George W. Bush as well as on Barack Obama or Mitt Romney aren’t just arguing this would be an effective political ploy, and we aren’t exclusively talking about an exact side-by-side identity of Bush and Romney economic policies, though there aren’t a lot of differences. We also have memories long enough recall how very similar W.’s deceptive political pitch was to what we’re getting today from Mitt. Jon Chait reinforces this argument today with his own reminiscences and reporting:

It’s worth considering a similar — in many ways, identical — episode that took place a dozen years before. During the 2000 election, the growth of a budget surplus offered the country a major choice. Al Gore proposed to use most of the surplus to retire the national debt and the balance for public investment. George W. Bush proposed a large, regressive income tax that Gore warned would exacerbate inequality and jeopardize the soundness of the budget.

Then, as now, the Republican simply denied over and over that his plan would do what the Democrats said it would. Bush portrayed his plan as devoting just a small fraction of the surplus to tax cuts and described his tax cut itself as benefitting the poor far more than the rich. And you certainly could find circumstantial evidence to suggest that Bush might govern the way he portrayed himself, rather than the way his plan read. He had governed in a bipartisan way in Texas, he had explicitly denounced the conservative wing of the Congressional GOP, and he had surrounded himself with moderate advisers like Michael Gerson and Karen Hughes.

But Bush in fact followed through on what his plan actually did, which happened to be what Gore described it as, and not what Bush described it as. His promises to maintain the budget surplus and direct most of the tax cuts to lower-earners fell by the wayside. What mattered was the party, and the Republican Party was committed to a policy of regressive tax cuts.

Chait goes on to talk about Al Gore’s constant and ultimate self-defeating efforts during that year’s debates to pin down Bush on his tax proposals. Bush’s evasions and mischaracterizations were a lot like Romney’s right now. We should never forget that Bush, after surviving the most divisive and heavily contested presidential election since 1876, quickly resorted to the reconciliation process for getting his tax cuts through Congress with a minimum of Democratic support needed–just as we have every reason to believe Romney will do with the entire Ryan Budget.

We’ve been here before, folks.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.