Mitt Romney is rebranding himself again, this time as a poverty fighter:
In his first public appearance since his surprise announcement that he will seriously consider a third campaign for the White House, Romney offered an economic message that represented a dramatic departure from the themes he sounded in losing the 2012 campaign to President Obama.
“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” Romney said. “Under this president, his policies have not worked. Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”
... He added, “People want to see rising wages and they deserve them.”
Washington Monthly's Mark Kleiman regards this rebranding as a positive sign, but Kleiman misinterprets what Romney's saying:
I notice that progressive bloggers and Tweeters are pointing and laughing at poor little Mitt Romney for his sudden outburst of populism. But it seems to me that, as pleasant as laughter is, what’s really called for is a smile of grim satisfaction....
The Red team - up until today - has believed, or at least said, that market-driven inequality reflects natural differences in economic contribution and is therefore just, while taking from “producers” and “job creators” and giving to the “47%” is unjust, and that the great inequality of outcome maintains incentives and thus contributes to efficiency. They love to criticize redistributive policies as “class warfare” and emphasize the importance of making the pie bigger rather than carving it up more equally, along with (formal) equality of opportunity rather than equality of result.
So when Mitt Romney describes rising levels of disparity - the rich getting richer while the number of poor people increases - as “income inequality getting worse,” he is making a major rhetorical concession to the good-guy side.
But Romney's not conceding anything -- he's not conceding that liberals have it right and he's not conceding that it's necessary to redistribute some wealth from the haves to the have-nots.
Just the opposite, in fact:
He cited former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty half a century ago. Johnson’s intentions were good, he said, but his policies had not worked. He argued that Republicans must persuade voters that conservative policies can “end the scourge of poverty” in America.
So he's saying that the same policies the right has always advocated are still the best policies -- and those, of course, would be huge cuts in social programs, tax cuts (primarily benefiting the rich), and significantly curtailed government regulation. For the good of the poor!
That's what conservatives believe, or at least what they're arguing lately: not that inequality under Obama is the result of conservative aspects of his economic approach (such as favoritism toward the big banks), and not that the rejection of greater amounts of stimulus or other anti-poverty programs (such as infrastructure development) by conservatives in Congress is harming the poor, and not that increasing inequality is a long-term trend, greatly exacerbated by changes that began in the Reagan era and have never truly been reversed (such as huge shifts in the tax burden away from the rich and corporations).
No, what conservatives are telling us these days is: liberalism = inequality. Social spending causes inequality. They're never quite clear on how this is supposed to happen, but they're certain that, given the fact that Obama is (as they're always telling us) the most left-wing president ever (Franklin Delano who?), and given the fact that (as they're also always telling us) he's had unchallenged, absolute, dictatorial control of the American government for six years (Senator Mitch who?), then if we have increasing inequality, it follows logically that it's 100% the failure of pure, undiluted, hard-core liberalism.
So, no, Mark, the right isn't conceding anything. It's just finding a new route to the same old endpoint: Cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulation, repeat ad infinitum.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog