The real news about Romney’s stadium speech

Ezra Klein analyzes Romney’s budget speech so we don’t have to. He notes an explicit, straightforward promise to cut taxes and raise defense spending and pay for it by cutting programs for the poor.

I’ve long joked, openly, that being a political theorist at a policy school is a little like holding a chair in astrology in an astronomy department. I violate all the assumptions about how policy analysts are supposed to think. I care deeply about rhetoric (and words generally), political cuts and thrusts, ideology, moral argument, and the kinds of values that can’t easily be traded off or costed out. Contrariwise, while I believe in the value of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, gathering good data and analyzing them scrupulously, paying attention to opportunity costs and tradeoffs at the margin, and what I’ve come to call the Prime Directive of Policy Analysis—“Skip the speech; read the budget”—I don’t do any of those valuable things myself.

That’s why it’s nice when Ezra Klein does them for me (and, I guess, nice that I care enough to skim his blog, and over time to learn some of the small number of things about policy that can’t be learnt directly from Mark). While all the reporters as well as we blogger-pundits were, understandably, chortling at the sight of a man who can’t lure more than 1,200 supporters to an empty football stadium, Ezra looked at the substance of what Mitt Romney said and found out how he proposes to pay for his tax cuts and hikes in defense spending:

… He’ll “send Medicaid back to the states and cap that program’s rate of growth,” and then “do the same for other programs, like food stamps, housing subsidies and job training.”

Sending the programs back to the states is a red herring. The key bit for deficit reduction is capping their rates of growth. Which is to say, cutting their rates of growth. Which is to say, cutting them.

What Romney is essentially proposing to do is finance a massive tax cut by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training. In other words, the neediest Americans — and, to a lesser degree, federal workers — will be financing a massive tax cut.

I don’t know whether independent analysts will say the numbers add up to make the rest of Romney’s plan deficit neutral. My guess is they won’t. But even if they did, Romney’s priorities are clear: In order to cut taxes and raise defense spending, he’ll cut the programs that support the poorest Americans.

In 2000, George W. Bush ran for president saying “I don’t think they ought to be balancing their budget on the backs of the poor.” In 2012, amidst a much worse economy, Romney is running for president saying exactly the opposite.

Perhaps that’s why the stadium is empty.

Romney is a very religious man (just ask him). But he’s also someone fond of editing out inconvenient pieces of prose without telling us. In this case, perhaps he’s not telling us that in his version of Matthew 25:40 he’s struck out “least” and written “greatest.”

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

6 thoughts on “The real news about Romney’s stadium speech”

    1. Am I the only one baffled and annoyed by these types of pointless “comments”? How about filtering out comments that consist only of text quoted from the post.

  1. Barry is right: they’re trackbacks; and it can actually be quite helpful to a discussion for people to know about other blogs or sites that linked to a post here.

    In this case, I basically just reposted something Ezra Klein said, so I don’t expect much substantive discussion on this site. But leaving in trackbacks in general helps people trace what might become a larger debate.

  2. Why not balance the budget on the backs of the poor? They don’t usually vote, they almost never make campaign contributions, and perhaps cutting social welfare programs will result in some of them actually dying, thus reducing poverty. Sounds like a win-win for the Republicans.

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