Fully 57 of Mitt Romney's 59 policy proposals to fix the American economy are as indistinguishable as Heinz's 57 varieties of ketchup (and a lot less fun than Hitchcock's 39 Steps). They are absolute standard-issue Republican dogma -- reduce corporate taxes, pass the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama (have you ever seen a prediction of how many jobs our free-trade agreement with Panama would create, even excluding the number of jobs it would destroy? Does it ascend beyond single digits?), repeal Obamacare, kneecap unions -- utterly usual, utterly unsurprising.
But two are interesting.
One of them is a proposal Romney promises to implement by executive order on his first day as president: Label China as a currency manipulator and assess tariffs on Chinese imports if China doesn't float its currency. This is an idea that unions and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have been urging on the Obama administration since it took office. Indeed, when the Democrats controlled the House, they passed a bill that would have required President Obama to move in this direction, though it died in the Wall-Street-friendly confines of the Senate. It is the one and only left-populist-nationalist proposal to emerge from the Republican field. (Donald Trump drew cheers from the crowds when he suggested it during his faux-proto-campaign, but then the Donald elected not to run.) It could help Romney win the votes of workers in key swing states decimated by state-subsidized Chinese competition, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And it marks a doctrinal departure from Republican economic policy, which, like Obama's, has tilted toward Wall Street's globalization agenda and away from Main Street's let's-make-it-at-home priorities.
Will Obama respond to Romney's challenge by becoming at least as populist-nationalist as Bain Capital's onetime CEO? It's almost unimaginable that Tim Geithner or Bill Daley would permit it. But do the Davids, Axelrod and Plouffe, really believe that there's any support for Wall Street's position among the electorate? Can they foresee how Romney would run rings about Obama in the industrial Midwest if Obama opposes this suggestion?
If they can't, they're overpaid.
The other Romney suggestion of note also runs counter to free-trade ideology. Romney proposes to establish a "Reagan economic zone" that would offer fewer trade restrictions to nations that offer greater protections for intellectual property, something that China clearly doesn't do. In essence, alongside the WTO, it would create a smaller, more privileged group that's more solicitous of American companies' economic interests.
Romney's idea provides the kernel for what should be the Democratic response: By all means, let's set up a smaller group of nations with which we can trade more freely, but don't limit the criteria for joining to respect for intellectual property. Since globalization has clearly dragged down American wages and incomes, let's also limit membership to those nations that have serious minimum-wage statutes and enforcement, and freely permit their citizens to form unions. China and most other authoritarian regimes would be excluded for violating every one of these conditions, and by adding these additional criteria, Romney's proposal would benefit not just American corporations but American workers as well.
Democrats in Congress might well go for this. As for the White House -- is anybody listening there? Anyone awake?