By HOWARD CHANG, senior
HERE’S A THOUGHT — you don’t have to be a conservative to vote for Mitt Romney. In fact, you don’t even have to like him as a person. These qualifiers are pretty convincing, but they’re not prerequisites, contrary to what our current polarized political climate might suggest. While there is a time for ideology, just as there is a time for personal trust to step to the forefront, this election should be about one thing: competent leadership.
We’ve seen what a lack of both competence and leadership has caused over the past twelve years. Beginning with George W. Bush, who more or less ceded the decision-making prerogative to his advisers, and continuing with the current president, who demonstrated his inability to lead when he abandoned the narrative to his political opponents during the healthcare debate, the lack of strong direction from the White House has cost this country. It has allowed partisan bickering to exceed the limits of healthy political debate, and paralyzed our legislative system to a degree of gridlock unparalleled in recent memory. Coming at such a critical juncture, in the midst
of daunting problems both at home and abroad, such inaction has proven especially disastrous. If there is one thing that will get America back on the right track, it is effective leadership.
Say what you will about him, but Mitt Romney has a very solid record of leadership. He has had experience running an administration and knows how to get things done. As Governor of Massachusetts, he managed to balance the budget and pass what was then the most significant healthcare reform package in U.S. history— all while working with a Democratic legislature. And let’s not forget his business experience — as clichéd as it may sound, the ability to negotiate deals is vital to leading competently. It’s also a talent that’s been conspicuously short in supply. A Romney presidency can do much to change that.
But, admittedly, the ability to pass legislation can do more harm than good if the laws themselves are dictated by ideology rather than common-sense principles of policy. This is particularly relevant for Mitt Romney, since his electoral strategy has focused on winning over conservatives, including such standard-bearers of ideological absolutism as the Tea Party. Indeed, their vision of government is pretty scary and too far to the right.
But my personal impression of Romney is that he’s playing up his “conservative credentials” to get elected, and that, once in office, he’s much more likely to govern from the pragmatic center than from the extreme right. His career in finance, his record as Massachusetts governor (remember Romneycare?), and even a few of his “gaffes” over the course of the campaign have shown that he has a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of economic theory than you might otherwise think if you followed his official talking points. In one case, when Time asked Mr. Romney about budget spending in 2013, he said this: “If you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is, by definition, throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.” He was quickly forced to recant this little piece of ideological heresy amid criticism from the right, but it nevertheless betrays a mind not likely to buy into the whole nonsense about huge spending cuts magically boosting confidence in the economy and solving deficit woes. In fact, a terser defense of Keynesian budgeting could not have been offered by the Obama campaign. Far from being an arbiter of right-wing extremism, Romney as president might turn out to be the down-to-earth pragmatist who will do what it takes to get this nation’s affairs in order.
The tragedy here is that it would be impossible for Romney to win based on his real beliefs. Denied the liberal vote, he has no option but to secure conservative support to have a chance at being elected. He is also a victim of the sort of politics demanded by the 24-hour news cycle — politics more concerned with acting than with policymaking, in which the palm of victory goes to the one who can smile most on camera. It’s no secret that Romney has nothing on Obama in terms of personal charisma, but in such an environment, it is doubtful whether Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln could have become the presidents had they campaigned just as themselves, rather than as alter-egos specially designed to win over the electorate. It is a travesty that ideology and personality play the central role in determining one’s chances at gaining high office. Put aside for a second your ideology and your judgment of his personality — from an objective standpoint, Romney has all the skills, the leadership, and the demonstrated competence in government to be a great president.
But first, he needs to do what it takes to get there.