That was President Obama’s jibe at Governor Romney in the foreign policy debate just ended. We figure the reason the governor sat there without responding is that he was just too flattered. The fact is that the foreign policies of the 1980s, the social policies of the 1950s, and most emphatically the economic policies of the 1920s have a great deal to commend of themselves. They would be improvements over the policies that we have had the past four years.
The foreign policies of the 1980s were the foreign policies of President Reagan. The Gipper came into office in a period of stagflation, with the Soviet Union on the march and a yawning military gap with the communist world. When he handed over the reigns to his vice president, after eight triumphant years in the White House, the country was in an economic boom, the Berlin Wall was about to come down, and the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse. Victory was at hand in the Cold War.
Mr. Romney would not defend — and cannot be accused of preferring — all of the social policies of the 1950s; racial segregation was still legal and same sex relationships were still closeted, for example. But what does Mr. Obama have to say about other features of the Fifties. There were far fewer abortions, divorce rates were radically lower — half — of what they’ve been running in recent years. Out of wedlock births were way lower. Authority was more respected. There was a greater sense of modesty and decorum, many of us sense (others may resent it).
The economic policies of the 1920s, well, that’s the best thing that Mr. Obama has ever said about Mr. Romney. The 1920s started out in a recession, as bitter as the one that greeted Mr. Obama. President Harding, briefly, and then President Coolidge turned things around with a program of tax cuts and spending cuts. They produced the roaring twenties, which featured full employment and one of the greatest bursts of innovation — airplanes, phones, automobiles — in history. The stock market soared. The dollar was as good as gold, and we were not at war. Debt was reduced. The size of the federal budget actually dropped during Coolidge’s presidency.
So we’d like to think that Mr. Obama has stumbled onto something here. If voters get the idea that Mr. Romney can deliver the foreign policy of the 1980s, when we defeated a vast, hostile conspiracy in Soviet Communism, then Mr. Romney is moving in the right direction. No one wants the social faults of the 1950s, but if Mr. Romney stands for the virtues of family and faith, of decorum and respect that flourished then, he’d be a refreshing change. If he stands for higher birthrates, like we had in the 1950s, he’s a winner. Our guess is that if people really believe Mr. Romney will replicate the 1920s, they’ll elect him in a landslide. The fact is that the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1980s are a winning combination — for the GOP and for America.