The Laugher Curve: Romney Etch-A-Sketch Aide Says Romney Thought TARP Unnecessary but Urged Support of It as a Give-Away to Wall Street

Okay.  The subtitle of this post is a loose paraphrase of statements that Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom made to ABC News on Thursday.  But not all that loose a paraphrase. It’s actually a direct deduction from Fehrnstrom’s comments.

As Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent mentioned on Friday, Fehrnstrom test-drove a new, or rather a newly clarified and perfected, campaign theme.  He claimed that the economic collapse began three years ago, immediately after Obama’s inauguration, rather than during the Bush administration.  Or that the severe economic downturn, which began in late 2007, and the near-collapse of the banking system, which occurred in the last few months of 2008, are unrelated to the deepening of the recession in 2009 and the ongoing high (but decreasing) unemployment rate, and also are unrelated to each other.  I’m not sure which.  Nor apparently is Fehrnstrom. 

He is sure, though, that the jobs created since the beginning of this administration, including the ones generated in, say, the last two years, owe nothing to Obama’s policies. 

Call it the theory of neo-economic severability.  Which occurs when some political hatchet wielder misjudges the level of most people’s credulity.  Or misjudges the public’s memory about major, fairly recent events, or at least about the public’s ability to have its memory refreshed by a few video clips and headlines from, say, the fall of 2008.  

Or just call it the Laugher Curve. 

My instant reaction after reading the first two paragraphs of Sargent’s post was: Ah! I should have known it!  My liberal-Democrat parents and my American History teachers lied to me. The Great Depression started in March 1933, since that was the beginning of the massive job losses that occurred in the last nine months of that year and in the following two years or so. The uptick in employment in ’36-’37 had nothing to do with Roosevelt’s policies and were instead the result of Hoover’s policies—something that should have been obvious all along, since the market crash and the economic collapse beginning in late 1929 were unrelated to each other and to the Great Depression, which started in 1933.  Those people waiting in breadlines during the Hoover administration were just practicing in case a Democrat was elected down the road and caused a Depression.  Unfortunately, one soon was, and he did.

Then I read Sargent’s third paragraph and saw that real pundits had gotten there first with that one.  Oh, well.

Sargent says that while Fehrnstrom’s claim is a step beyond Romney’s routine ones, at least in its clarity, it’s really a rendition of Romney’s main theme: that Obama’s policies caused the economic collapse.  And Sargent’s livid that the media hasn’t called Romney on it, by pointing out the, um, chronology problem.  

I’m not so sure that Fehrnstrom’s claim isn’t really new.  I’ve thought Romney’s just been claiming that Obama’s policies haven’t succeeded in spurring economic growth and hiring and instead have hindered it.  (Especially in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere where GM and Chrysler plants and huge numbers of auto suppliers’ factories shuttered after Obama allowed those two automakers to liquidate back in 2009, despite Romney’s frantic warnings about the dire consequences.)  I think Fehrnstrom’s new iteration is different, not just clearer. 

But as the ABC News story shows, this new theme isn’t just Fehrnstrom’s talking point; it’s also Romney’s.  On Thursday, Romney pretended that a Lorain, Ohio National Gypsum plant where Obama campaigned in January 2008 had closed during Obama’s presidency.  Actually, it closed a few weeks after Obama spoke there in 2008.  The plant, which employed about 70 people, made drywall.  Y’know, for new homes.  The market for which, and therefore the building of which, slowed in 2007 and collapsed in 2008.  It’s a market that can’t exist at all without a healthy credit market. 

Which brings me to … TARP.  A.k.a, the bank-bailout.  Or at least it reminds me that that was the subject of this post’s subtitle. 

Sargent suggests that some member of the press who covers Romney’s campaign stops ask Romney what exactly he would have done as president in 2009 to spur the economy and job creation.  But we already know the answer to that: eliminate all regulation on business and reduce or eliminate taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. 

Me?  I just want some reporter to ask Romney, in light of Fehrnstrom’s claim, why, if the economy was fine until 2009 and the banking industry wasn’t collapsing back in the fall of 2008, he urged Republican members of Congress to vote for the bailout.  Oh.  Oh, wait.  It must be that TARP worked so well—and so fast—that by January 20, 2009 the economy was healthy again.  But then one of those damn healthcare-legislation death panels intervened and mandated the death of the recovered economy, as practice for some time down the road, after enactment of the Affordable Care Act, when the panel would have to kill nice old ladies instead of the GDP.  Either that or, well, Romney wanted the bailout as a gift to Wall Street, not as the only apparent way to keep the entire financial system from unraveling, his contrary claims notwithstanding; according to Fehrnstrom, Romney thought the financial system and the economy were fine.

But I’d also like a reporter to ask Romney why he’s adopted Fehrnstrom’s modus operandiof misrepresenting the timing of occurrences or misstating who said whatever, by simply cutting out words, or years.  Before his recent Etch-a-Sketch notoriety, Fehrnstrom gained notice as the aide who concocted an ad last fall showing Obama in a news clip saying something like “If we keep talking about the economy, we lose.”  The original clip was from 2008, and Obama was quoting McCain.  

Several commentators have written in recent weeks that a hallmark of Romney’s campaign is shaping up to be bald lies, mostly by Romney himself.  Most of these misrepresentations involve something Romney says falsely that Obama said, but sometimes the misrepresentations are fabricated statistics.  Always though, they are easily disprovable, and the statements that can’t be disproved with a video clip showing what actually was said or what actually happened, or with statistics, eventually will be disproved when Romney is directly asked the basis for the statement.  At least I assume Romney eventually will be asked this, even though Romney assumes otherwise. 

But rather than suggest that Romney regularly makes things up—that he’s a habitual liar—Obama should pretend to take him at his word.  While some voters may decide to abide a presidential candidate who they know is a habitual liar and cockily flaunts it, a majority probably wouldn’t risk voting for one who appears to base important decisions on supposed facts that have not been checked for accuracy.  Everyone knows that Romney is comically malleable.  But, if taken at his word, he’s also easily conned. 

Obama should take him at his word and illustrate the point, incident by incident.  Most voters, after all, probably would rather have a president whom they wouldn’t trust to sell them a used car than a president who they wouldn’t want buying one.  Romney of course would be the former, and most voters will recognize that.  But not before pausing and wondering.


Romney’s speech at the shuttered National Gypsum factory is important for a more substantive reason, too: Statements he made in the speech serve, I think, as a pretty stark argument for Keynesian economics and therefore undermine the Republicans’ anti-stimulus refrains regarding the 2009 stimulus law and their current opposition to use of federal funds to help state and local governments avoid further layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.  And it’s pretty hard not to juxtapose those statements with Romney’s hostility toward the auto-industry bailout, both then and now.  I’ll post a short post on this later today or tomorrow.  A short post is all that’s necessary, because Romney’s words speak for themselves.  Economics isn’t my bailiwick.  But for this it doesn’t have to be.