Romneynomics Failed Miserably, and It's Time for the Obama Campaign to Call Him Out


The American people have made it clear that unemployment will be the dominant issue of this election. Polls consistently show voters prioritizing it far above every other policy question, with nothing else – not health care reform, not balancing the budget, not international relations, not gay rights – managing to place even a close second by comparison. Consequently, voters need to be made aware of some ugly truths about Romneynomics if they are to make an informed choice in November.

The most important facts can be divided into two categories:

1) Romneynomics caused Massachusetts to lag behind the rest of the nation in job creation and income growth.

One of the most illuminating ways to measure a leader's success is by contrasting the conditions where he governed with those in analogous states. By this metric, Romney's gubernatorial career was an abysmal failure. During his tenure as governor, in which he enacted major spending cuts and raised revenue through fees that targeted the working class (instead of tax increases that would focus on the wealthy), Massachusetts ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation. Its unemployment rate was higher than the national average after he left office, despite having been lower than the national mean when he first took over. Further, for those who were lucky enough to remain employed, Romneynomics caused a considerable decline in their net compensation. Even as median household income increased in the rest of the country, it fell by roughly $2,000 (adjusted for inflation) in Romney's Massachusetts. These "Romney bonuses" (as those with a particularly ironic bent might call them) played no small part in why hundreds of thousands of state residents moved elsewhere at the time hoping to find work.

By contrast, Obama's policies have helped America weather the Great Recession and retain one of the strongest economies in the developed world. When the president took office in January 2009, unemployment was skyrocketing at a catastrophic rate of nearly 0.4% per month thanks to the Wall Street crash of September 2008. Indeed, before his first stimulus began to take effect, joblessness had actually doubled in eighteen months flat, from 4.7% in November 2007 (the last month before the Great Recession) to 9.4% in May 2009. Once the stimulus started to be felt, however, unemployment stabilized, remaining at or under 10% for the following year-and-a-half. An additional stimulus passed in December 2010 (weeks before the GOP  gained control of the House of Representatives) then caused an overall trend of decline in unemployment that still continues today, with rates dropping to 8.7%-9.1% in 2011 and 8.1%-8.5% as of the first five months of 2012.

2) Romneynomics has already been tried in Europe, and it has failed there.

Europe reacted to the Great Recession with drastic government spending cuts, or "austerity measures," and is lagging far behind America as a result. In May 2012, as the United States posted an unemployment rate of 8.2%, the 17 nations in the European Union saw joblessness climb to a record high of 11%. The countries that implemented the most severe austerity measures, like Spain and Greece, reported the highest rates (exceeding 20%), while the United Kingdom, which jumped on the austerity bandwagon late in the game, saw its nascent recovery turn into a double-dip recession once it implemented the draconian right-wing spending cuts. What's more, despite concerns about the costliness of stimulus measures, annualized growth in federal spending has actually been slower during Obama's first term (1.4%) than under the terms of his immediate predecessors (8.7% and 4.9% under Reagan, 5.4% under Bush I, 3.2% and 3.9% under Clinton, 7.3% and 8.1% under Bush II). Finally, America's economy has grown at an average of 3.7% each quarter in the post-stimulus era, a number that Europe today can only envy.

This comparison is of critical importance because Romney intends to repeat Europe's mistakes here in the U.S. In order to meet the budgetary requirements of his current economic plan, Romney would have to implement 29% spending cuts to every domestic program except for Social Security by 2016. This would necessitate significant rollbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' disability compensation, SNAP (i.e., food stamps), child nutrition programs, assistance for secondary education, and SSI benefits for poor, elderly, and disabled individuals. As a result, millions of Americans would be driven below the poverty line and those who are already poor would only suffer more. Meanwhile, millions more would be rendered unable to afford health insurance or college tuition. Additionally, the removal of such massive government investment from the national economy would also cause a major contraction, akin to the double-dip recession that is currently causing unemployment to shoot up in Britain. One of Obama's most important achievements was steering America through the Great Recession without succumbing to the European siren song of austerity. Romney, on the other hand, would follow Europe's example. That is why Obama must emphasize, ad infinitum and if necessary ad nauseum, two key points: (1) That America has fared better in this global economic crisis than Europe because he has avoided austerity measures, and (2) That Romney would follow in Europe's example.

In short...

While it is easy to blame the media for not drawing sufficient attention to the flaws of Romneynomics, the main burden of responsibility lies with Obama's re-election team. No campaign can be successful without ensuring that the vital aspects of its message are inextricably linked with the public's conceptions about the stakes of the election. This includes not only what a campaign promotes about its own candidate, but what it identifies as the Achilles' heels of its opponents, from Bill Clinton linking Bob Dole with the unpopularity of Newt Gingrich and the 104th Congress ("Dole-Gingrich") to George W. Bush's ridiculing John Kerry's alleged evolutions of opinion on the Iraq War ("flip-flop").

Obama can certainly take pages directly from the Clinton and Bush reelection efforts. One can imagine him putting Boehner and Ryan on the spot by calling for a special session of Congress and challenging them to either pass widely supported economic programs or else be exposed as partisan ideologues (a la Harry Truman in 1948). Perhaps he could even air commercials that highlight Romney's main character weakness (his history as a flip-flopper) by juxtaposing videos of the different positions he has taken on a number of issues. Most important of all, however, the president must guarantee that the key details of Romney's economic record aren't just mentioned, but reiterated until they become the year's dominant political memes. Phrases like "47th out of 50" and "Romney bonuses" should become household words, while the theme that America needs to be "Not Like Europe" must reflexively come to every voter's mind whenever he or she thinks about Romneynomics. Four years ago, the Obama campaign forever intertwined themes such as "Hope," "Change," and "Yes We Can" with the political brand of their candidate. For an electoral narrative that will be defined by job creation, they must find equally memorable and pervasive ways to ensure that every voter knows the ugly truths of Romneynomics.