In the last four years we've added $6.3 trillion in federal debt, with $5 trillion of it fully on Obama's watch. In 2008, debt held by the public was 40.5 percent of GDP. It's now 74.2 percent and growing.
In short, Romney needs to say that when it comes to spending and the growth of government, it's Obama who's closer to "Bush on steroids."
To do so, Romney must challenge Obama's theories of both the past and the future. The notion that Bush was a government-shrinking market fanatic is bizarre. Under Bush, the federal government spent more than 3 percent of GDP on anti-poverty programs for the first time. Education spending rose 58 percent faster than inflation. Bush gave us Medicare Part D, the biggest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society -- until Obamacare. He signed Sarbanes-Oxley, created a whole new Cabinet agency (the Department of Homeland Security), and was the originator of the bailouts, TARP and the first stimulus program.
Obama took many of these policies and approaches and expanded them. Historians will look back on the Bush-Obama years as a time of largely uninterrupted growth in government and debt.
I don't believe the Republican Party would punish Romney for a policy-heavy "Sister Souljah moment." I've made this argument in front of numerous conservative audiences (and recently in the pages of National Review) with little to no objection. My hunch is that Bush himself would be happy to serve as a punching bag if it would help.
Romney shouldn't attack Bush personally. Nor should he be strident in his criticisms of Bush policies. (There are substantive defenses of his record to be made.) But Romney is under no obligation to defend runaway spending by either party. Indeed, congressional Republicans admitted that, in the words of Rep. Mike Pence, "we lost our way" during the Bush years. They subsequently won back the House in 2010.
Romney should follow their example.