It's Only Okay If You're Mitt Romney

Yesterday, a “hot” mic caught President Obama saying this to outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

Obama: This is my last election…After my election I have more flexibility.

Conservatives are predictably outraged, but as far as scandalous statements are concerned, it’s fairly banal. Everyone knows that the president is constrained by political realities in an election year, and this is more true when faced with an opposition categorically opposed to everything pursued by the administration. At worst, Obama is guilty of being candid. Indeed, his response to the controversy is appropriately dismissive:

“[T]he only way I get this stuff done is if I’m consulting with the Pentagon, if I’m consulting with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support, and frankly the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations.”

As if to prove his point, the Republican presidential candidates continue to hammer him on the “hot mic” incident, and yesterday—on Hugh Hewitt’s show—presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney declared that this is a moment which will haunt Obama in the general election:

You know, I don’t think he can recover from it, to tell you the truth. I mean, I think he will try and spin something. But I don’t know how you spin from an open mic, where you’re talking about having more flexibility after the election, which means quite clearly that you don’t want the American people to hear what you’re really planning on doing, and that you’re going to be able to do more when you no longer are accountable to the American people.

The irony of this, of course, is that he’s essentially criticizing Obama for pursuing his general election strategy. Here’s Romney circa yesterday:

One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now. [Emphasis mine]

The difference is that President Obama has legitimate interest in postponing sensitive negotiations until after the election, when partisan furor has died down. By contrast, Romney just wants to escape public scrutiny for his extremely right-wing budget, which requires massive cuts to existing social programs in order to finance equally large tax cuts for the rich. His policies are unpopular, and he would rather make it to the White House without actually having to answer for his ideas.