Repeat After Me: Mitt Romney Doesn’t Care About “Jobs”

If you’re running a campaign against an incumbent president when the economy’s persistently sluggish and unemployment is over 8%, you are naturally going to harp on said president’s failure to create more jobs. This is true even if you are the nominee of the Jewish Anti-Abortion Isolationist Foodie Party (just to make something up), and really just care about “your issues.”

As it happens, Mitt Romney is the nominee of a party whose activist base and elite opinion-leaders alike mainly care about relieving businesses and the wealthy from taxes and regulations, paring back or eliminating the New Deal/Great Society social safety net (along with resisting extensions of it like the Affordable Care Act), and reversing most of the cultural trends of the late twentieth century. Do they think their agenda will generally produce a stronger society and economy, making Americans healthier, wealthier and wiser? Probably, though the “constitutional” wing of the conservative movement tends to treat small government, laissez-faire capitalism, and a patriarchal culture as having been divinely ordained via the Declaration of Independence, and thus as normative regardless of the practical consequences. Would they think that regardless of the current GDP and employment statistics? You betcha, because they were advancing much the same agenda during the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s. Would they support the same agenda if the federal budget were balanced? Absolutely, as we know from their argument prior to enactment of the Bush tax cuts that the federal government was in danger of running surpluses so large that it would have to start buying up assets to soak up the excess revenues.

I mention these familiar if oft-forgotten facts by way of presenting this snippet at The Hill from recent conservative semi-apostate Juan Williams, who is wondering what the Mitt Romney’s actual agenda might be to boost employment:

[F]ixing the economy is the entire basis of Romney’s campaign. So what plans does the GOP candidate have to rev up the economy?

His best-known idea is cutting taxes. But there is no way to specify how many jobs that will create. After-tax profits for corporations are already high.

His most concrete idea for creating jobs is to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The idea has political potency because President Obama, citing environmental concerns, denied a permit for TransCanada Corp. to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline.

However, the number of jobs that would be created by Keystone could generously be described as modest.

That number, according to a study Williams cites, is 1,400. He also goes on to report that less than half of Republicans think Romney has an actual plan for the economy.

While the search for a Romney/GOP “jobs plan” is, to put it mildly, elusive, they do have very concrete ideas for reshaping the tax code and the federal government. It’s called the Ryan Budget, and whatever its long-term effect via the alleged moral tonic to the poor and the liberating impact on “job creators,” the most immediate and by far the most certain consequences for jobs are negative. I mean, you may rhetorically say that public-sector jobs aren’t “real” or “good” or that they pay too much, but they are jobs, not turnips. Combined with the restrictive monetary policies virtually all Republicans favor these days, the short-term prognosis for Republican rule is higher, not lower, unemployment.

It’s revealing that during the 2008 campaign (but before the financial collapse), when the economy was sluggish and real wages had been eroding for years and the budget deficit was drifting ever upward and private debt was approaching all-time highs, Mike Huckabee was damn near kicked out of the conservative movement for suggesting that the economy wasn’t fantastic and that Republicans should show some concern for the struggles of working people. Meanwhile, Republicans were pursuing the same agenda they are pursuing today. Very different rhetoric, but the same agenda. And moreover, once the financial crisis did arrive, and the economy tanked, but before the bad numbers could be credibly blamed on Barack Obama, the initial instinct of most conservatives was to welcome the recession as a bracing tonic for America, and as a fitting punishment for the poor and minority folk who had precipitated the crisis by failing to make enough money to pay their mortgages.

You could make the argument, via all sorts of confidence-fairy theories about the important of strong national leadership, that Mitt Romney’s actual “jobs” plan is simply to present himself to a grateful public as Mr. Fix-it, and capital will be invested and consumers will spend and the jobs will flow forth in a river of abundance. But barring that kind of magic, it’s important to note that the entire Romney economic agenda involves doing nothing as aggressively as possible–indeed, doing much less on the economic front than Obama, leaving all the job-creating work to the kind of people he used to advise at Bain Capital.

A little more honesty on that front would be nice, but of course honesty is in very short supply in today’s GOP. And no one should be surprised to learn that Romney’s “jobs plan” doesn’t exist, by design.

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.