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Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Democrat's Case For Romney

I started blogging almost a year ago.

My motivation, in part, was, after years of obsessive devotion to following politics and arguing stridently for consistently liberal-left positions, to put myself on a News Fast. In doing so, I re-examined my views based on relying on conversation with others (I am blessed to have many intelligent, thoughtful, and creative friends, acquaintances, and colleagues) while avoiding my usual diet of left leaning fare such as Salon, Slate, The New Republic, The New York Times, American Prospect, Washington Monthly, and The Nation.

I also harkened back to my education - which is in philosophy and law --- both fields having in common the critical analysis of arguments, facts, and data, with the  consideration of all sides of a position as a necessary part of same.

As we near Election Day 2012, its time to revisit my views. Rather than tie them to loyalty to one wing or another, I ask simply, "what do I want"? Not a laundry list of issues, or a party platform, but what values do I want to see affirmed?

Here they are:

  • Vibrant commerce that creates jobs, supports innovation, and encourages economic growth
  • Pragmatic, scientific, facts and data based spirit of inquiry.
  • Problem-solving and practical solutions, rather than strict adherence to dogma or ideology, including a distaste for fundamentalism of any stripe.
  • Bold cosmopolitanism - a curiosity about, and tolerance of, other cultures, religions, and experiments in living.
  • Respect for the person, privacy, and property of others.
  • Recognition that we have a moral duty to help one another bear each other's burdens.
  • Free flow of information and the open sharing of perspectives and views.
  • Optimistic, yet realistic, vision of the future.

In other words, American culture at its best.

I can't imagine that much listed above is terribly controversial. And I think these values transcend political parties.

In addition to the above, I have a different view of democracy than I started with.

I used to think that the goal was to put a party in place who would enact a specific agenda, and that I should see myself as a foot-soldier in that fight, even if all I was doing was arguing and debating with others, and not actually putting some skin in the game by volunteering for a campaign.

However, based on some reading I've done on systems theory, conversations I have had with actual politicians and campaign managers, and an excellent book by Judge Richard Posner, "Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy", I've come to believe that the most essential function of democracy is the non-violent, peaceful selection and replacement of leaders.

Not the stuff of soaring rhetoric, but when you consider how many countries there are where change of leadership is determined by who has power over the army or the secret police, its importance cannot be overemphasized. When democracy works best, we are able to keep our "best and brightest" scheming wheeler-dealers on their toes, with good policy being a side effect of same.

With apologies to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in "The Third Man", in the 20th Century we had politicians up to their ears in graft, back-room deals, and horse-trading, but they gave us roads, bridges, dams, Social Security, The Civil Rights Act, defeated Hitler and the Soviet Union, and put man on the moon. In the 21st Century we have ideologically pure, incorruptible politicians to whom compromise is a sin. And what have they given us? The soundbite.

Which brings me back to Election 2012.

If I disregard the Democratic party line that Romney is a valueless, craven sociopath, and assume the more realistic position that he is a narcissistic egomaniac  (in other words, a seeker of high public office) I think I can offer a perspective on him that is, perhaps, more helpful.

Romney is, at heart, a CEO, a venture capitalist and business opportunist. He is an intelligent (Harvard JD/MBA) pragmatic facts and data guy. I firmly believe that in his personal life he is every bit the humorless, painfully straight-laced and starched Puritanical tight-ass that he appears to be. But I don't think he is a right wing fanatic on policy --- he wants to show big accomplishments --- not for the GOP, but for the history books. And I think he is motivated by what will get him there, not ideological purity. He wants to be, and believes himself entitled to be, a Great President, not a great Republican.

Romney started years ago grooming himself to run for president. He worshiped his father, former Michigan governor George Romney, a moderate Republican. Mitt saw a deeply unpopular GOP and calculated that a right of center moderate Republican had the best chance of winning the presidency. Mitt's plan as governor of Massachusetts was to brand himself as a moderate Republican who could "cross the aisle". RomneyCare was to be his stepping stone, a government/free market policy mix developed with Democrats and, therefore, proving his statesmanship. A quick review of YouTube in 2007 and 2008 is full of Romney making his rounds on the talking head circuit touting his plan as a model for a national policy.

And I think this is who Romney actually is. A pragmatic, right leaning technocrat. Re-read his NYTimes op-ed on the auto industry. Except for perhaps adding a few lines about extending unemployment benefits and job training, I think he's right on the money about "controlled bankruptcy". The auto industry has been bailed out by the feds twice in my lifetime now --- who do they think they are... farmers?

However, Mitt's plans were flustered by the unexpected phenomenon of the Tea Party. The Tea Party encompassed the complete opposite of the values I listed above, and therefore the worst elements of American culture: anti-intellectualism, anti-science, racism, isolationism, know-nothingism, demagoguery, xenophobia, hysteria and fear. The folks who would have been ripe to become America Firsters in the 1930s and 1940s, and John Birch Society members in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Tea Party is the latest strain of a cultural herpes that flares up when the America's immune system is weakened by bad economic times or war. And like the Firsters and Birchers, I guarantee that in 10 years people who were Tea Partiers will deny or dilute their past participation in the movement.

Romney's great failure of leadership and character was in his shameless pandering to the Tea Party wing-nut right, from which he now must return to the technocratic pragmatic center. Let's face it, he was the only GOP presidential candidate who did not come off as a lunatic when given more that five minutes to speak freely, and the "Anyone But Obama" sentiment was so strong he could have run as a right of center moderate and still won the nomination.

But, like he learned at Bain Capital, you do anything and everything to close the deal.

Again, Romney is driven by accomplishment, not by ideology. I think if he wins, he will see his opportunity to enter the history books as the Great Statesman who overcame gridlock, and, just as only Nixon could go to China, only Romney can move the GOP closer to the center. So I don't think he would be so bad. And if the Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate, he could be even better than "not so bad".

So that's my case for Romney. The best one I can make, consistent with those values listed above.

I figure that I should vote in a way that endorses those values. Therefore, I will still be voting for Obama and the Democrats, not because they are all perfect leaders, but because I think they, much more than the GOP, presently support those values I listed above.

Now, if Republicans were to support those values, and if Romney was the guy he was back as Governor of Massachusetts, I suppose I would feel compelled to vote for him.

Things can change. Recall that one hundred years ago, Republicans, led by Teddy Roosevelt, were the cosmopolitan "progressive party", passing pragmatic and innovative anti-trust, consumer protection, and conservation laws to adapt the marketplace to a new century, while the Democrats were the party of states' rights, fundamentalist religion, and populist isolationism.

In short, regardless who the next president is, I think its all going to be pretty much OK.


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  2. Doc, an excellent and well thought out analysis. I share most, if not all, of your values and priorities. I, for most of my life have been a solid Republican vote. I've voted for democrats, but over the past 10-15 years I have found the GOP straying too far from my "America First" point of view. ObamaCare is the first policy initiative I can remember that was pro-middle class. I too will vote Obama, but I do not fear a Romney won for much of the reasons you state above.

  3. Nice read. Well thought-out. But... Gary Johnson 2012

  4. As someone who distinctly remembers being on the other end of a political debate (we shared 26 Hartwell in the summer of 1992), this angle is familiar to me! It is hard not too disagree with this, because you have a distinct and unique way of attracting others whose opinions are different than yours-- and making them think you agree with them! Brilliant, really. I do miss our conversations! As a sucker for details, I have to just point out one oversight in this otherwise well-balanced missive. Your parsing of Romney's record in Massachusetts is believable, if it were true. Romney only got elected in Massachusetts because he was coming off the huge success of the Olympics (this offset his negatives after his loss to Kennedy in the 1994 Senate race) and he was attractive to the electorate as a moderate technocrat. In reality, his ambition outweighed his actual skill: he knew he couldn't ever be a viable Presidential candidate unless he had real elected experience. My friend, a State Representative in the MA House of Representatives, served alongside him and shared the experiences he had working along side him, which augments my argument: he wasn't there to serve Massachusetts. The Health Care initiative was brought about by the Democrats and, looking for a signature piece of legislation, Romney took great credit for it... after the fact. That he has chosen to run away from it in his two presidential runs is beside the point. He needed it to get to where he is today. Romney is a man who places his own ambition beyond love of country: he has produced no single argument for bringing the country in a new direction besides reactionary ones to what he sees as Obama's failures. Not a single one. He is out of touch with the reality of daily life and therefore lacks empathy which begets insensitivity. He is emblematic of The American Capitalist who, impressed by his own success, believes he is entitled to political power. The United States, thankfully, no longer has this elite social class as it had in the 1950s. Yes, we will all survive no matter who wins tomorrow. But we shall see tomorrow if the country chooses progress or a return to a conservative past. Will it thrive or just survive?

  5. @Tom- thanks for reading and for the perspective. I had a law professor who had been legal counsel to a well known congressman. I recall him telling me that a key political skill is the ability to take credit for other people's work ;-)

  6. And if I read your comments correctly, I don't think they are inconsistent with what I said....

  7. And I do find myself agreeing much more with non-Tea Party Republicans than in my idealistic youth...