Has Romney Learned Anything from the Bush Years?

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein asks an important question about Mitt Romney's policy platform: Has he actually learned anything from the failures of the Bush administration? The answer, so far, is no:

These last few years have been extraordinary — and not in a good way. We have been through, and in some ways are still in, a once-in-a-many-generation economic storm. And nothing in Romney’s agenda is responsive to that fact. There’s no new thinking here. Nothing that is clearly about the unusual problems we face in this moment. Nothing that a Republican in 2007, or 2005, or 1999, or 1991, couldn’t have proposed. Romney is like a doctor looking at a patient with acute pneumonia and prescribing, as he does during routine physicals, diet and exercise.

This can’t be emphasized enough; far from offering a plan to deal with the short-term problems in the economy—namely, the lack of adequate demand—Romney is proposing a set of policies that are identical to those offered by George W. Bush. Indeed, with Paul Ryan's budget plan, the Republican Party has committed itself to reliving the Bush administration, with larger tax cuts, fewer regulations, and a greater willingness to cater to corporate concerns.

The chief challenge for the Obama campaign is pointing this out to the public. Most Americans have a low opinion of the Bush administration, and still blame President Bush for the state of the economy. If Obama can tie Romney to the previous administration, it will be a huge blow to the former Massachusetts governor.

If there are obstacles to this, they have everything to do with economic conditions and Romney’s perceived competence. Typically, when the economy is bad, voters will support the opposition regardless of what it stands for. We’re not at that point, but the economy is bad enough that many Americans will support Romney regardless of whether his policies would improve conditions. What’s more, because of his business background, Romney simply looks like he’s competent. Polls consistently show that voters trust Romney to improve the economy. It’s hard to overrate this asset, especially for someone who isn’t known for his political skill; it makes people skeptical of the idea that he would mishandle the economy, or do something that would run against their interests.

As a related point, this is why the attacks on Bain Capital are so important for the Obama campaign: If they can present Romney as an unscrupulous, selfish businessman, then they will have an easier time selling the idea that he wants to return to the unscrupulous selfishness of the disastrous Bush years.