"Politics," Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg declared during Harry Truman's presidency decades ago, "stops at the water's edge." Not, it turns out, for Mitt Romney. Three years ago, Romney blasted Obama's "apology tour" even as the President was visiting Cairo, Ankara and other capitals. (For that slander, the Washington Post fact-checker gave Romney a "Four Pinocchio" rating.) Now, the Republican nominee has dispatched his chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, to pen an op-ed in a German paper to undermine the Obama administration's position on the economic crisis in Europe.
For months, the White House has been pressuring Euro zone leaders and German chancellor Angela Merkel to take action to stabilize Spain and Greece while backing away from the draconian austerity programs that are dragging down European economies and threatening the U.S. recovery. Even as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner pushed for the rescue of Spanish banks, President Obama used his press conference Friday to issue a warning:
Over the longer term, even as European countries with large debt burdens carry out necessary fiscal reforms, they've also got to promote economic growth and job creation. As some countries have discovered, it's a lot harder to rein in deficits and debt if your economy isn't growing. So it's a positive thing that the conversation has moved in that direction, and leaders like Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are working to put in place a growth agenda alongside responsible fiscal plans.
But even as the Obama administration was sending Merkel one message, former Mitt Romney's chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, was taking to the pages of the business journal Handelsblatt to argue the reverse in his screed, "Don't Learn from America." As The New York Times reported:
"Unfortunately, the advice of the U.S. government regarding solutions to the crisis is misleading. For Europe and especially for Germany," Mr. Hubbard wrote, according to a translation of his article from the Handelsblatt Web site.
He opposed what he described as the Obama administration's efforts "to persuade Germany to stand up financially weak governments and banks in the euro zone so that the Greek crisis would not spread to other states."
"These recommendations are not only unwise," he added, "they also reveal ignorance of the causes of the crisis and of a growth trend in the future."
Mr. Hubbard proposed a classic conservative pro-austerity, anti-Keynesian approach, arguing that cutting government spending will restore public confidence, encourage growth and avert future tax increases.
"Long-term confidence in solid government financing shores up growth and enables the same scope for short-term transitional assistance," he said. "Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent, understands this very well and advises a gradual fiscal consolidation for the U.S.: structural reform to stimulate growth."
Despite the calamitous failure of the "confidence fairy" to magically heal the U.K. and European economies, Romney nevertheless is determined to enact what Paul Krugman called the "austerity agenda" in the U.S. Mitt's plan would deliver a massive tax cut windfall for the rich, paying for it by gutting the social safety net each pretends to protect. He would end Medicare as we know it with a premium support gambit that would dramatically shift health care costs to America's seniors.
While increasing the defense budget, Romney would drive discretionary spending down to levels not seen in generations. The GOP White House-hopeful would repeal the Patient Protection Act and leave at least 30 million people without insurance.
And despite his pledge to end many tax loopholes and deductions to fund their gilded-class giveaway, Mitt Romney doesn't have the courage to say which ones. (The same goes for Mr. Hubbard, who told The New York Times "it is not his intention to take on any specific deduction or exclusion and eliminate it.") As a result, Mitt "Cut, Cap and Balance" Romney would actually add trillions more in red ink to the national debt.
As he made clear once again this week, Mitt Romney wants to further gut a public sector which has already shed 600,000 jobs since 2009, a loss which analysts have estimated added a full point to the U.S. unemployment rate. Last week, Romney criticized the President, charging "he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers." And the former Massachusetts Governor, who already proposed a 10 percent reduction in a federal workforce which, compared to U.S. population is at its smallest level since the early 1950's, wants more layoffs. As Romney put it in this Three Pinocchio lie two weeks ago:
"That stimulus he [President Obama] put in place -- it didn't help private sector jobs, it helped preserve government jobs. And the one place we should have shut back -- or cut back -- was on government jobs. We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let's send them home and put you back to work."
Mitt Romney doesn't need to look to Europe to see the devastation wrought by the austerity his man Glenn Hubbard is urging Angela Merkel to continue. The carnage among state and local governments here is proof enough. And the sad irony is that Mitt knows very well that, as John Maynard Keynes famously put it, "The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity." As he has expressed during a few rare moments of candor:
"If you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I'm not going to do that, of course."
But the Europeans should, because President Obama is asking them not to. Apparently, Glenn Hubbard's "Don't Learn from America" love letter to Angela Merkel is a message that she can expect more "flexibility" from a President Romney after the election.
So much for not apologizing for America.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)