The Corner

Forget About All That

Romney’s position on TARP (and all that) is the same as it was last week, only distilled: Can’t we just move on?

This strategy is understandable. TARP was not Mitt Romney’s fault. But it’s risky.

The last time the Wall Street Journal asked the question, in August, 56 percent of potential voters polled said that the current economic condition was a “situation Obama inherited.” A month after Obama was inaugurated, the percentage was 84 percent — but the drop-off has slowed in recent months.

Nearly three years into Obama’s term, then, a majority of Americans associate today’s economic stagnation largely with the president’s predecessor. That’s probably in large part because the most tangible legacy of the years leading up the 2008 financial meltdown — and the single biggest factor in today’s slow job growth — is something that Americans confront every month, when they make their mortgage payment: too much debt.  

Romney may underestimate the great trauma that TARP did to the American populace. People still want to know how it came to pass that our largest banks (and others) effectively became wards of the state for months, and how it is, now, that the politicians who are supposed to stick up for free markets and the rule of law mysteriously want to ignore the fact that this happened.

Republicans, in particular, have a lot to answer for. Starting in 2008, they more or less had to throw away their free-market principles to save the economy.

Yet Republicans believe(d?) in free markets for good reason. Without markets, you get chaos (including Occupy Wall Street) as people try to step in and provide the discipline that markets must provide. 

Maybe Republicans had to destroy the free market in order to save it (though we still haven’t gotten the final price tag, which can’t be measured in dollars).

But anyone who wants to lead the party should make it clear that he spends a good deal of his waking hours trying to figure out how to make sure that this type of cataclysm will never happen again. Romney is a good candidate in many ways, and his tax plan for capital is pretty solid, but he doesn’t seem to be getting this. 

— Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal