In retrospect it should not come as a surprise that Mitt Rodney ‘won’ the first presidential debate at the University of Denver. Mitt Romney is the challenger, and challengers tend to have it easier. In addition, during the last month, he was often portrayed as a loser, including by his own party. In other words, expectations about him have been running low. Under such circumstances, even an average performance is enough to win.
Barack Obama’s mediocre showing did, of course, not help. In his statements, the President used far too many sentences beginning with ‘and’, and unfortunately he frequently gave the impression of following a script. Or he was too tired from campaigning.
But if we leave style and rhetoric aside and concentrate on substance instead, Mitt Romney’s message is revealed as hugely simplistic. He plans no stimulus and also no new taxes. Instead he will cut expenditures in all areas except the military. He will relieve states from the burden of federal oversight, for instance with respect to health care, but will also cut their financing through the federal budget. And he will trust in economic growth for covering the budget deficit.
Here the question should have arisen: Where will the economic turnaround come from? Since Romney is not planning anything specific in order to boost the economy, other than not raising taxes, he either trusts that what the Obama administration has done so far will suffice, or he doesn’t really care.
Yet what struck me most about Romney’s plans was how his vision of the future United States bears a striking resemblance to the present European Union.
That is really bad news.
Mitt Romney wants to weaken American federalism—with regard to regulation and also with regard to financing. His argument rests on the assumption that flexibility is a good thing per se. States should function as democratic laboratories each coming up with their own solutions to pressing problems such as financial oversight, social insurance, health care or education. Under this model, the role of federal government is primarily that of coordination.
That is precisely what we have in the European Union—AND—the weaknesses of this model have been glaringly revealed by the present economic crisis. Today, the main reason why the world and American economies are not recovering as fast as they could, is because the European Union displays so much flexibility among its Member States that it has failed to achieve a level playing field between North and South besides requiring years to conclude it needs—and should fund—a mechanism similar to the Federal Reserve.
A European future for the United States—à-la-Romney—is not a good idea. That is not the road to growth. It is rather the road to stagnation.