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A peek into an alternate reality

Romney's magic act in Iowa yesterday.
Romney's magic act in Iowa yesterday.Associated Press

Mitt Romney delivered a curious speech in Iowa yesterday, presenting his thoughts on the budget deficit, the debt and debt reduction, which is worth reading if you missed it. We often talk about the problem of the left and right working from entirely different sets of facts, and how the discourse breaks down when there's no shared foundation of reality, and the Republican's remarks offered a timely peek into an alternate reality where facts have no meaning.

Even the topic itself is a strange choice for Romney. If the former governor is elected, he'll inherit a $1 trillion deficit and a $15 debt, which he'll respond to by approving massive new tax cuts and increasing Pentagon spending. How will he pay for this? No one has the foggiest idea.

In other words, the guy who intends to add trillions to the debt gave a speech yesterday on the dangers of adding trillions to the debt.

More importantly, though, Romney presented a vision of the last few years that bears absolutely no resemblance to reality at any level. Jon Chait had a good piece on the remarks.

Mitt Romney delivered a speech today about the budget deficit. It’s hard to wrap your arms around Romney’s argument, because it’s an amalgamation of free-floating conservative rage and anxiety, completely untethered to any facts, as agreed upon by the relevant experts.

In the real world, the following things are true: The budget deficit was projected to top $1 trillion even before President Obama took office, and that was when forecasters were still radically underestimating the depth of the 2008 crash. Obama did propose temporary deficit-increasing measures, an economic approach endorsed in its general contours, if not its particulars, by Romney’s economists. These measures contributed a relatively small proportion to the deficit, and their effect is short-lived. Obama instead focused on longer-term measures to reduce the deficit, including comprehensive health-care reform projected to reduce deficits by a trillion dollars in its second decade. Obama put forward a budget plan that would stabilize the debt as a percentage of the economy. Obama has hoped to achieve deeper long-term deficit reduction by striking bipartisan deals with Congress, and he has tried to achieve this goal by openly endorsing a bipartisan deficit plan in the Senate and privately agreeing to a more conservative plan with John Boehner, both of which were killed by Republican opposition to any higher revenue.

The story told by Romney is one in which all of these things are either untrue or could not possibly be true.

I don't think Mitt Romney is stupid. I do think Romney is operating from the assumption that voters are stupid.

In Romney's speech, the deficit is responsible for a tepid economic recovery. That doesn't make any sense -- and I suspect the former governor knows that -- but he's counting on you not knowing the difference. What's more, he's avoiding interviews with journalists who might ask him to explain why on earth such arguments should be taken seriously.

In Romney's speech, the deficit can be dramatically reduced magically, even while cutting taxes on the wealthy and increasing spending on defense. How? Apparently, we're not supposed to ask.

In Romney's speech, "spending" has created a "financial crisis" (that's gibberish). In Romney's speech, the size of government has exploded to new heights (the opposite is true). In Romney's speech, the deficit is growing (it's actually shrinking). In Romney's speech, President Obama doesn't care about fiscal responsibility (Obama offered Republicans an overly-generous $4 trillion debt-reduction package, which the GOP rejected). In Romney's speech, Bush-era policies have absolutely nothing to do with Obama-era deficits (ahem).

In Romney's speech, everything we know about the Recovery Act should be replaced with talking points that don't make sense.

Watching the Republican's remarks, I was annoyed by the breathtaking dishonesty, but I was also struck by something that seemed rather new to me: Romney's immaturity. His arguments weren't just wrong; they were silly. If the political discourse were in any way grounded in fact, this was the kind of speech that would laugh Romney off the national stage, with sensible people agreeing that the guy just isn't ready for the big kids' table. Grown-ups don't feel the need to create fantasy lands where their wishes are true.

The speech seemed like it had been written by a high-school student who's preoccupied with Rush Limbaugh's radio show and assorted right-wing Twitter feeds. I couldn't take Romney seriously yesterday because Romney no longer cares enough to take himself seriously.

We got a peek into an alternate reality yesterday, and it appears that Romney Land is a deeply foolish place.