Back in December, Mitt Romney delivered one of several "major" speeches on economic policy, telling a New Hampshire audience that in President Obama's vision, "everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk." The Republican added, "Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes."
This was, of course, wildly at odds with reality. As Jon Chait noted at the time, "This is nuts, Glenn Beck-level insane. Restoring Clinton-era taxes is not a plan to equalize outcomes, or even close. It's not even a plan to stop rising inequality. Obama's America will continue to be the most unequal society in the advanced world -- only slightly less so."
I mention this because Romney gave yet another "major" economic speech in St. Louis yesterday, and he once again argued that the Democratic president is somehow hostile towards capitalism.
"Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or G.D.P. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy. And through the increasing controls government has imposed on industries like energy, financial services and automobiles, it will soon effectively control the majority of our economic activity.
"One must ask whether we will still be a free enterprise nation and whether we will still have economic freedom. America is on the cusp of having a government-run economy. President Obama is transforming America into something very different than the land of the free and the land of opportunity."
First, it's important that Americans realize that Romney is lying. Reading from his trusted teleprompter -- these weren't off-the-cuff remarks, where it's easier to make a mistake -- the Republican nominee seriously argued that government will soon control most of the economy.
This is garbage, and Romney almost certainly knows it. David Corn recently scrutinized the claim and concluded it's the former governor's "biggest fib," which falls "somewhere between 'ridiculous' and 'stupid.'"
Second, the larger argument Romney is making marks the point at which the candidate transitions from conservative to hysterical.
It's obviously fair game for Romney to attack the president, his ideas, his agenda, and his record. That's what campaigns are for. Challengers tell voters that the incumbent is wrong and offer an alternative.
But Romney is creating a twisted fantasy land, ascribing views to Obama that are simply made up. Government is not poised to control the American economy; the free-enterprise system is not at risk. I care that Romney is trying to deceive the public, but I care even more about how he's trying to deceive the public -- in this case, by peddling incoherent nonsense.
What's the basis for Romney's smear? Obama supports a health care package that mirrors plans from moderate Republicans and which Romney himself embraced at the state level. Obama supports a climate policy that's similar to what McCain/Palin supported just four years ago. Obama supports Wall Street safeguards that were approved with bipartisan support. Obama supports tax rates on the wealthy that were applied in the 1990s -- when the economy soared.
This, in Romney's mind, would mark the end of "economic freedom"? Please.
The notion that Obama is attacking free enterprise is the sort of silliness we might expect from Michele Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh, but Mitt Romney is supposed to be a "serious" Republican. In the 2012 GOP field, this guy was perceived as the grown-up.
If our politics were more sensible, most of the mainstream would hear these hysterical attacks and see Romney as a desperate candidate who's starting to fall apart. Instead, we've become so accustomed to nonsense, yesterday's speech was hardly noticed. This just isn't healthy.