Is Mitt “Getting Specific?”

In a presidential campaign development that appears to have been thrown off for a week or so by the candidate’s own past and present utterances, Team Mitt is allowing as how it might be a good time to let voters in on the secret of what the man would do to turn the economy around if he wins–you know, other than brightening the sky, emboldening investors, and making the world a more peaceful, stable place by his very presence. Here’s what they are saying according to an O’Keefe/Rucker rundown for WaPo:

“We do think the timing is right to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class,” Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters Monday, saying the campaign has reviewed polling data that suggests voters are eager to hear more details from the campaign about what policies Romney would adopt as president.

Gillespie called the shift “more of a natural progression” than a campaign overhaul.

“There are a lot of Americans out there who are just really starting to lock in and starting to look for more information and now is the time for us to provide that for them,” Gillespie said.

Mighty nice of them, eh? The Romney campaign has actually spent the months since the primaries fighting with fanatical determination against any discussion of the domestic agenda Mitt committed to in order to talk conservative activists into accepting him as the GOP nominee. Its official line, day after day and week after week, was that the election was not a choice of policy agendas, but instead a referendum on the failed economic leadership of Barack Obama. Hell, it got to where conservatives were as upset about this Chance the Gardner message as progressives.

So nobody’s really buying the argument that the Romney campaign has decided that in the fullness of time and the natural order of things, it’s time to dumb down Mitt’s policy brilliance for the handful of swing voters who don’t fall neatly into the maker or taker camp. He hasn’t closed the deal with those voters; he’s under constant attack from the left and the right for his Nixonian stealth about his intentions in office; and he obviously hasn’t been doing that well just winging it over the last couple of weeks.

But the important thing to understand now, as I tried to explain earlier in the week before the Boca Moment took over all discussions, is that the “five-point plan” the Romney campaign suddenly wants to talk about right now is a Potemkin Village version of the agenda he practically signed onto in blood during the primaries. Sure, the stuff about abandoning any regulation of the fossil fuel industry, evil as it is, is a real policy specific, I’ll give them that. So, too, in theory, is the proposal to turn federal K-12 education aid into “backpack vouchers” (you know, you strap the money on the kid’s back and it follows him or her wherever the parents say), though there are all kinds of slippery details that depend on varying state laws, and there is zero chance the campaign will get to that level of details. Beyond that, you’ve got all kinds of self-contradictory demagoguery about expanding trade while launching a global trade war, and then the real guts of the “five-point plan,” described breezily as (a) attacking the budget deficit and (b) reducing the burden of taxes and regulations on small businesses. These little simple-sounding items happen to represent the Ryan Budget and the vast restructuring of national priorities it would involve.

Some of you might remember a scene in the old movie Moonstruck where the Cher character is in a confessional, and tells the priest: “I used the Lord’s name in vain twice; I-slept-with-my-fiance’s-brother; and I bounced a check at the liquor store.” The priest says: “That’s not a sin unless it was deliberate…what was that middle part, again?”

Any voters wanting to understand the Romney agenda had better emulate that priest and instead of agreeing the evaluate the candidates in terms of where they stand on the Keystone XL pipeline or trade sanctions on China, ask some follow-up questions about what Romney and his party actually think we need to do to create a smaller government and make life easier for small businesses. It’s basically what conservative activists have wanted to do, in good economic times and bad, since 1964: take America back to those salad days before the New Deal and Great Society turned the country in a dastardly, European direction.

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.