Romney Is Not Trying to Please Policy Wonks

Campaign plans are a little overrated. On one hand, it's good to tell people exactly what you want to do if you're elected. On the other hand, whatever you do on the really big issues is going to have to go through the legislative sausage grinder, so the degree to which what eventually gets produced resembles what you proposed is a function of how close you were to your party's desires in the first place. For instance, the Affordable Care Act ended up looking a lot like Barack Obama's 2008 health-care proposal. There were important exceptions—his proposal didn't include an individual mandate and did include a public option—but the contours reflected the elite Democratic consensus of the moment. That's why his plan didn't differ much from those offered by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

So if you want to know what Mitt Romney is going to do, the best thing is probably to examine Paul Ryan's plans—as Ryan Lizza argues—because that's where the Republican Party is now. But Romney himself isn't going to get into too much specificity, in part because the more specific you get about your plans, the less likely anyone is going to actually care. Most presidential candidates produce lengthy issue briefings, which very few people read. So why bother? That appears to be the question Romney is asking. At the same time, he has to appear to have a plan, a problem that can be solved by issuing something that has the word "plan" in its title. So, are you ready for Mitt Romney's plan to help the middle class? Don't worry, you won't have to stay up late reading it. Here it is, all 206 words (that includes headings). It's got items like "Give every family access to a great school and quality teachers" and "Give states responsibility for programs that they can implement more effectively," and my personal favorite, "Create a Reagan Economic Zone to strengthen free enterprise around the world." Just what is a "Reagan Economic Zone," you ask? It's a zone where everything is all Reagany, I guess. Mitt doesn't actually say, but it sounds super-great.

In fairness, there are a couple of specifics in there, like approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which will help America's middle class by ... well ... anyhow, conservatives like it because it brings tar-sands oil, the dirtiest kind there is, down from Canada, and that'll piss off enviro-hippies. And there's repealing Obamacare, which will enable the middle class to experience the character building that comes from getting turned down for health coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

The point is, Romney has almost nothing to gain by getting too specific. He knows that one by one, the items on his policy agenda and that of his party just aren't that popular. I'm sure he genuinely believes that cutting taxes on the wealthy would be great for the country, but the country doesn't happen to agree. So why get bogged down in the details? If he wins this election, it sure isn't going to be because the voters took a long, hard look at his policy proposals and decided they were sensible and pragmatic.

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