President Obama tanked in the last debate. Good.
Now maybe people will listen when Mitt Romney says things like, "The genius of America is the free enterprise system, and freedom, and the fact that people can go out there and start a business. ... The private market and individual responsibility always work best."
But then Romney responded to Obama by essentially saying: I want big government, too!
We who hope for smaller government as a way to expand liberty and create prosperity are disturbed by what we heard last week. The GOP candidate painted himself as a big government man.
"Regulation is essential. ... Every free economy has good regulation."
He added the obligatory, "Regulation can become excessive," but showed no sign of understanding that free competition — unrestricted by government monopolistic privilege — is the best regulation. Nothing better protects consumers and workers than free choice in a competitive marketplace.
Romney also made it clear that he doesn't want to reduce government revenues. He insisted that his 20 percent cut in tax rates would be revenue neutral.
"In order for us not to lose revenue — have the government run out of money — I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions so that we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth."
I'm all for slashing deductions and simplifying taxes, but the 1980s taught me to be wary. The top rate went back up — from 28 to 39.6 percent at one point — but the deductions repealed are likely gone forever.
Then Romney said, "I'm not looking to ... reduce the revenues going to the government."
Why not? The less revenue in government hands, the more private individuals can do wonderful things with it.
Romney emphasizes revenue neutrality because he doesn't want to be accused of proposing to increase the budget deficit, which he repeatedly pounded Obama over. He could avoid that charge by calling for spending cuts. Our deficit is a spending, not a tax revenue, problem. The federal government already collects $2.6 trillion! That's more than enough.
Romney says, "I will eliminate all programs by this test: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it."
Great. But I don't believe it. He did say he'd take away Big Bird's and Jim Lehrer's appropriation. Fine. Big Bird doesn't need the money. PBS-like programming will thrive without taxpayer handouts, and America shouldn't have "government TV" anyway. But the cut would be only $445 million out of a nearly $4 trillion budget. Big deal.
He also said he'd "make government more efficient."
Gee, haven't other politicians thought of that? The claim is meaningless. That promise is made and broken year after year. Efficiency requires a market test, but since government gets its money by force, there is no market test.
He said he'd "combine some agencies and departments" and cut back the number of employees." But he quickly added: "through attrition." Attrition! That isn't leadership. It isn't even management. "Attrition" means good people leave and the deadwood stays. I suppose Romney fears losing votes from government workers. Much of the time, Romney endorsed government spending. "I do not believe in cutting our military."
Never mind that we now spend at Cold War levels and that our military tab is as big as the rest of the world's combined.
He criticized the federal government's many worthless job training programs, but did he call for repeal? No: "We got to get those dollars back to the states."
On America's useless Education Department: "I'm not going to cut education funding. I don't have any plan to cut education funding and grants that go to people going to college. I'm planning on continuing to grow."
Geez. Grow? What good would that do? The feds already suck $100 billion from state taxpayers only to return it later with strings. It hasn't improved test results. The department has been a complete waste of money. If the Republican candidate won't even eliminate that intrusive bureaucracy, there's little hope.
Maybe Paul Ryan will do better at the vice presidential debate tomorrow night.
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="http://www.johnstossel.com" <http://www.johnstossel.com>>johnstossel.com</a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.