JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Romney rolls out new economic agenda

Campaign wastes no time pushing plan as unemployment rate ticks up

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the Romney campaign unveils a new economic pitch.

Plus, is Mitt Romney like George W. Bush? That's what President Obama would have voters believe. But should you buy it?

And stunning upsets by Chinese athletes in the Olympics. The politics of sports. Can a nation's greatness really be measured by the medal standings?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Democrats successfully used the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid," when Bill Clinton was running against then-President George Bush. That phrase hit a nerve with the American public. But this may be the time for Republicans to make that argument as the Labor Department releases the latest numbers on America's unemployed. A contradictory message of sorts on Friday as the unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent, while 160,000 new jobs were added in July. The Romney camp wasting no time pushing their candidate's plan to rev up the economy, laying out his economic agenda to the Wall Street Journal this week.

Joining the panel, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington Kim Strassel.

Dan, with these new jobs numbers coming out a week after the second- quarter growth figures, a measly 1.5 percent growth, is the state of the economy now fixed in the voter mind for November?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: I think so. I don't know whether it's fixed in the voters' minds. There may be some hope out there.

GIGOT: Really?

HENNINGER: The fact is it. These are the numbers on the state of the economy that we'll get between now and November.

GIGOT: What does it tell you about that state?

HENNINGER: Well, it tells me that they have to make a choice. They have to make a choice between the incumbent, Barack Obama, who, after all, has been president through this period. And he is on the defensive by definition. The economy has been this way and he's been president. And while we tend to personalize this, at least opponents for Barack Obama, being Obama. It doesn't -- if he were President X under these circumstances he could be JFK. Normally, you would not get reelected with those kinds of economic numbers. Now --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: So the reality is mediocre job growth, not enough to replace new entrants into the labor force, stagnant incomes.

HENNINGER: Right.

GIGOT: It's a slow growth. It's a very tough record to defend. Basically, that's the status. Basically, that's the status. That's -- that's --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: But he has to defend it. And to --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Does he really?

HENNINGER: Oh, I think so. Because if you've been president for four years, if -- he is trying to offload it on to his predecessor, which is a stretch, I think --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But that's different than defending it. That's saying it's still lousy, but it's his fault.

HENNINGER: Well, this is the explanation --

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: -- that he's trying to give. Now then the burden falls on the opponent, Mitt Romney, to give an explanation why he could do better than this president under these circumstances.

GIGOT: OK, Kim, Mitt Romney now, after suffering some blows in advertising against him in June and July, now is going back on offense, rolls out his economic plan, at least a new way of framing it this week. What did you make of the pitch?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Well, he's out there. He's talking very much about the need to -- I mean, a lot of it is what he's said before. He's got to cut -- he's going to cut taxes and strip down the regulation and he's going to put the country looking forward ahead, and also deal with debt and entitlement and some of these. I mean, he's --

(CROSSTALK)

STRASSEL: Yes?

GIGOT: Did you see, Kim, is there a new way he's putting it? Remember, he had 59 ideas, which Ed Rendell, the Democrat, called 56 too many. Is he kind of -- is he distilling that message down to a real two or three that the voters can latch on to?

STRASSEL: Yes, he is. And that was what he absolutely needed to do. And he needed to also make this positive pitch for himself. He's been mostly on defense the entire time he's been running, either on defense on the Obama campaign going after him or just beating on the president himself and the president's failure. And now he's out there. He's distilling the message, making it much more clear, something that voters can get their head around, but also a positive message for himself.

GIGOT: All right. Brother Freeman, what is the message? Distill it for me.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well --

GIGOT: What is the Romney --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: It is the growth. And that's is the difference --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: How? How growth? How does he --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: It's taking government and stripping it back from its impact on the private economy. Now, you didn't build that for President Obama, obviously --

(CROSSTALK)

FREEMAN: -- a very negative message to small business. What Mr. Romney is doing is the opposite. Kim mentioned a lot of regulation. To a lot of small business people, this is actually a bigger problem than taxes. And what Romney is saying is, we're actually going to measure the costs of new regulations before we impose them on you. He's talking about not just fixing ObamaCare, but a lot of these financial services regulations that didn't end too-big-to-fail banks, but have really restricted the ability of banks to lend.

GIGOT: You've made the case throughout this campaign, that Barack Obama, for all of us economic troubles, has actually stitched together something of a compelling alternative reality of the economy, focusing on the middle class and the economy that -- that -- built to last. Is the Romney message right now enough to counter that Obama narrative? Even if you think that narrative is false, is it enough to persuade those Independent voters?

HENNINGER: Paul, I think they are beginning to find their way into that debate. Obama is counting on the fact that the American people are tremendously anxious about the economic situation. The Romney document goes into some depth about not just unemployment, but the jobs crisis. There's this deep structural jobs crisis, the worst we've had since the depression.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: And they're beginning to address that and connect the policies, like deregulation, to the reasons for why there's no job growth in the economy. And I think that that's going to probably resonate with a lot of voters.

FREEMAN: And just to underline how it's resonating. Beneath the headlines of that Friday jobs report, a lot of terrible news. You have the -- what they call the U-6. This is people unemployed, plus everyone who has given up because they're discouraged. Hitting 15 percent now. You have the labor force participation going down. The reality is terrible. And I think you have to say that the president's policies have failed on their own term.

GIGOT: Kim, the --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Go ahead, Kim.

STRASSEL: No. It also underlines within of the Obama campaign's key messages, which is their argument has been, we had a very bad recession and we are slowly, but surely climbing out of it. The problem with the unemployment numbers, the problems with the dip in GDP, which was the third in three years of a dip, it doesn't look that way. It looks as though, as though we're not really making progress, and then that begins to make voters ask the question if that is in fact because of Obama policy?

GIGOT: Well, and that big coming tax increase may really have -- the president may have backed himself into worse numbers as everybody -- businesses wait to see whether or not they should hire them based on the outcome of the election.

When we come back, President Obama's latest efforts to paint Mitt Romney as just another George W. Bush. Is that a fair comparison? Our panel takes on that challenge, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: President Obama's campaign releasing a new ad that tries to link Mitt Romney to former President George W. Bush. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: You watched and worried -- two wars, tax cuts for millionaires, debt piled up. And now, we face a choice -- Mitt Romney's plan, a new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, increased military spending, adding trillions to the deficit, or President Obama's plan, a balanced approach, $4 trillion in deficit reduction, millionaires pay a little more.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm President Obama and I approved this message because, to cut the deficit, we need everyone to pay their fair share.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: OK. So is the Obama camp saying a vote for Mitt Romney means two more wars?

(LAUGHTER)

Kim, explain to us what the Obama camp is thinking with this strategy of linking Mitt Romney to George W. Bush.

STRASSEL: Well, this is part of the alternate reality of the Obama world.

(LAUGHTER)

That what we have to do is blame everything that's wrong in the country right now on George W. Bush. Blame it on the wars. Blame it on the President Bush's tax cuts. Blame it on everything else.

Of course, that's not actually why we're in the situation we are. It's in part because we had a big housing crisis and also, compounded, dramatically by President Obama's severe spending streak that he's been on since then. So, but this is what he's trying to sell and it's integral to his campaign.

GIGOT: But if you look at the polling, Kim, they show that a lot of voters still think that the troubles we're in were the fault of Bush.

STRASSEL: Yes, here is the problem with those polls. So, yes, a lot of voters say they were the responsibility of Bush. But the thing is President Bush isn't on the ballot list here. The bigger problem with the polls is they show more than half of Americans also thinks that President Obama is a lot or moderately to blame for the economic crisis. And that's the problem he has.

GIGOT: OK, James, how different -- let's look at the merits. How different do you think Mitt Romney would be on economic policy than George Bush? They share some of the president's first-term advisers, Glenn Hubbard, good economist, fine economist, from Colombia; Greg Mankiw from Harvard. Where would you think he'd be different?

FREEMAN: I think different he has staked out very different ground of spending and entitlements. President George W. Bush did make one ill-fated effort to reform Social Security, but that didn't work. And we can go on all day about how that was screwed up. But I think what you see with Mr. Romney, largely embracing the Ryan plan in the House, is a more serious effort to rein in entitlement spending.

GIGOT: So that's where he would be different.

FREEMAN: Yes.

GIGOT: What mistakes -- what mistakes should he avoid that George W. Bush made. Look, the Bush administration didn't end on a really happy note economically.

HENNINGER: Right.

GIGOT: OK?

(LAUGHTER)

Something went wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: Right. Remember the phrase no new taxes, I think that Romney should be no new spending. Remember the prescription drug benefit that George Bush passed.

GIGOT: Right. A huge expansion.

HENNINGER: A huge expansion that contributed a lot to the growth of the Tea Party, which was the insurrection inside the Republican Party. In 2010, they swept Democrats out of office. We now have these insurgencies, like Ted Cruz winning the senatorial primary in Texas against the Republican establishment. There is one piece of data in the Romney economic document that caught my eye, and that is that he will push spending back to 20 percent of GDP, the average since 1968. During Obama's term, it's risen to about 24 percent of GDP. And if he sticks to that, that means spending will not rise during the Romney presidency.

GIGOT: I would add Romney has to avoid the Bush mistakes of over subsidizing housing and too easy monetary policy --

FREEMAN: It sounds like he's learning --

GIGOT: -- that created a housing bubble, which led to the crisis.

FREEMAN: To his credit, even in places like Nevada, even when it's been politically maybe not -- not the easiest thing to do, he's resisted, saying, yes, let's go for another housing bailout. So I think you ought to be optimistic.

GIGOT: Kim, as a political strategy, do you think that Romney ought to attempt, at least rhetorically somehow, to separate himself from President Bush. And say -- obviously, Obama's policies are the biggest problems we have right now, economically. But, look, I think that Republicans made some mistakes, too, back in the last decade, and I'm not going it repeat them?

STRASSEL: Yes. No, you're absolutely right. There's a split in the Republican Party right now between the old, unreformed wing of the party that we're the big spenders, the earmarkers, the guys who lost their way, and these new insurgents that Dan was talking about. If Romney wants to deal with this whole question very efficiently what he says is I am not Barack Obama nor am I the old version of that Republican Party. I'm there with the reform crew. And that would help to inoculate him from a lot of the Bush criticisms.

GIGOT: One good thing this week, Mitt Romney came out against an extension of the wind power tax subsidy.

FREEMAN: Very encouraging.

GIGOT: Very encouraging.

FREEMAN: And he's got a great opportunity to counter punch. Unlike Mitt Romney, Barack Obama was in Washington from 2005, on. He was voting for a lot spending. And when he was voting against it, it's because he wanted to spend more than President Bush. So the Bush years have a problem for Barack Obama if Mitt Romney wants to explore.

GIGOT: Briefly, Dan, separate himself from Bush?

HENNINGER: I think a little bit. I wouldn't go overboard with that. I think the Republican base is ready to vote against the Democrats and for a Republican.

GIGOT: But those Independents are the swing voters. They're the guys you've got to be able to persuade.

All right, when we come back, how far have the Chinese really gone to win at this summer's Olympic Games?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ADAMS, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: I think we need to get real here. I mean, these are the best athletes, competing at the very highest level. We've seen all sorts of records broken already all over the place. And we have a very, very strong drug testing program. And we're very confident, if there are cheats, we will catch them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: The Olympics brings the best athletes together for competition and the inevitable controversy. This summer's games in London are no different. Charges of doping and even genetic engineering came down faster than the swim time of 16-year-old Ye Shiwen. Ye stunned the world when she swam the final 50 meters in the 400 IM faster than Ryan Lochte, who won the gold for the men. Now a Chinese doping official claims these critics are simply, quote, "biased against China."

So, James, this largest question, are the Olympics a showcase for individual achievement or nationalism.

FREEMAN: They are. It's becoming a little bit more of a competition of nations. It's not quite the drama of the Cold War when you had us against the Soviet Union, kind of good versus evil conflict. But you have some of that, when you compare our political system to China. But they've evolved more toward our economic system, so maybe not quite the dramatic clash.

GIGOT: What do you make over the controversy over the Chinese swimmer's times?

HENNINGER: I think there's reason to be suspicious. On the other hand, by all reports China, which was engaged in doping in the 1990s, was embarrassed by that and has stopped doing it. Credible reports say they no longer do that.

GIGOT: Some individuals may do it, but it's not a state-sanctioned policy.

HENNINGER: Right.

GIGOT: At least our colleague, Hugo Restall, talks about the -- described this very well this week, where he talked about the state program which picks these men and women -- boys and girls at six or seven and then just puts them with the world's best trainers and so on.

HENNINGER: And that somehow is supposed to prove that the Chinese system is better. I honestly believe that the Chinese government does this for internal consumption. I mean, that government is constantly trying to re-legitimize itself and prove its worth in front of the Chinese people. This is a kind of straight forward and relatively easy way to do it amidst all the other mistakes they make when accidents and such happens in China.

FREEMAN: I think this is the difference between now and the Cold War. We used to be, for a life and death struggle to convince the world, which was the better model. And now, I think the Chinese have a lot more at stake than we do. They have an illegitimate regime that needs to seek legitimacy in these kinds of achievements. We don't.

GIGOT: Yes, when you're -- when you're --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Go ahead, Kim.

STRASSEL: One thing I don't think hasn't changed, the rest of the world does view the Olympics different than American. We want it achieve and we want to highlight our talent. We view it as the latest example of why we are good at things. For many countries out here -- and this gets to what James is saying -- and it hasn't necessarily changed from the Cold War. Countries like China -- this is their chance to prove to the world that they're a player and that they matter. And it's very important to them that they succeed. And there's a different focus on it in these countries than on the United States.

GIGOT: Well, particularly in China, where the only claim the government has, is not to legitimacy, it's not elections. It's economic growth and it's nationalism. And these Olympics are a showcase for that kind of national achievement. And so, that's why they put a lot of this effort in.

On the other hand, you know, we haven't gotten back to the position, Dan, where the Bulgarian judges or the East German judges --

(LAUGHTER)

-- were giving the Americans really low scores just so --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: I remember those days.

(LAUGHTER)

And during the gymnastic competitions, as we all sit there looking at the gymnasts, waiting for the judges, I keep waiting for the cameras to turn to the judges as they used to and focus on that East German judge who was nervously fooling around with papers. We don't do that anymore.

GIGOT: Kim, I don't want to pick on you, but you probably are too young to remember the Cold War, so --

(LAUGHTER)

What about the American view of this thing? We see some people try to play up the Chinese achievements and sort of say America is falling behind. And yet, the thing I notice is that you still have these fantastic examples of individuals who sacrifice so much to achieve so much, and when they win and do so well, it's really a celebration of their own sacrifices and achievements.

STRASSEL: It is. And it's been very moving, a lot of those stories. And I think I think, too, what defines America in the Olympics is that you see these stories across the country, and there are people being drawn into the sport for any variety of reasons, and succeeding for a variety of reasons, sometimes because they're intrigued by professional sports that are also working in this country. But what you don't see -- and that's the individualism. You don't see the state coming in and picking you out when you're four years old and shipping you off to the Olympics program. And there is a certain Americans sort of individualism to it all that I think Americans celebrate.

GIGOT: Here, here.

HENNINGER: And it ultimately comes down to individual achievement rather than state achievement. There's no other way to define these Olympics other than the successes of individuals.

GIGOT: And people do help finance these things, the athletes, and they need money to be able to train. But ultimately, it's their commitment, individual commitment.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: This is a miss to the Obama White House for the news that its officials have been routinely hiding their political meetings by conducting their business off the White House grounds so they don't have to put it in the White House visitor's log or doing business on personal e- mail. Now, every White House probably engages in this to a certain degree, and everyone knows it's a no-no. I think what's striking here is the gulf between this behavior from the Obama White House and its promises coming in they were going to be the most transparent administration in the history of the country. So much for that.

GIGOT: Sounds like you should hang out at Caribou Coffee and source up, Kim.

STRASSEL: Exactly.

GIGOT: All right, Dan?

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: Paul, an Olympic hit to the fact that at least 30 of the athletes on the U.S. team are foreign born. They're immigrants. One is the father of -- a son from Cuba. Another is a son of an undocumented Mexican worker. At least two are refugees from Africa. Critics of immigration policy say that these people are really the exception. Even our immigration system puts ceilings on the number of good people who want to come to the United States. I think these Olympic exceptions prove we need new rules to let the best people come to the United States and compete wherever they want to compete.

GIGOT: All right.

James?

FREEMAN: This is a hit to all the customers who showed up at Chick-fil-A this week, to stand up for free speech. Some thuggish politicians had tried to shut out the business, because its president dared to express support for traditional marriage. So good for the customers for standing up for free speech and the freedom to serve a delicious sandwich.

GIGOT: Yes, not Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's finest hour --

(LAUGHTER)

-- threatening to use government power to block Chick-fil-A from coming to Chicago. Really something.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@FOXnews.com. And follow us on Twitter @JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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