Focused on fighting a war, Bush -- never a tightwad to begin with -- handed the keys to the Treasury to Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert, and they spent enough money to burn a wet mule. On Bush's watch, education spending more than doubled, the government enacted the biggest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society (Medicare Part D), and we created a vast new government agency (the Department of Homeland Security).
And yet, to listen to Obama and his allies, the Bush years were a time of "market fundamentalism" and government inaction. That's in part because when it comes to domestic policy, Democrats will always want to spend more than Republicans, so Republicans are always branded as mean-spiritedly frugal by comparison.
Nearly every problem with spending and debt associated with the Bush years was made far worse under Obama. The man campaigned as an outsider who was going to change course before we went over a fiscal cliff. Instead, when he got behind the wheel, as it were, he hit the gas instead of the brakes -- and yet has the temerity to claim that all of the forward momentum is Bush's fault.
Worse, the current obsession with "compromise" in Washington boils down to the argument that Republicans should revert back to being part of the problem, enabling Obama to "invest" even more money in his pet schemes.
Romney is under no obligation to defend the Republican performance during the Bush years. Indeed, if he's serious about fixing what's wrong with Washington, he has an obligation not to defend it. This is an argument that the Tea Party -- which famously dealt Obama's party a shellacking in 2010 -- and independents alike are entirely open to. Voters don't want a president to rein in runaway Democratic spending; they want one to rein in runaway Washington spending.
Let Obama play the partisan blame game. He's the partisan insider this time. The role of bipartisan outsider is Romney's for the taking.
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