Jan 082012

I like Mitt Romney.  I supported him for the Republican nomination in 2008, and I support him now (and I have since the primaries began and the candidates were determined).  I’m not looking for a Messiah in a presidential candidate, I’m looking for the best candidate, closest to my views, who can win.  I believe that Mitt is well-suited to satisfy that criteria.  But Mitt’s got a conspicuous problem.  He doesn’t connect with the Republican base.  He doesn’t really connect with voters in general, and voters don’t connect with him.

It’s . . . strange, actually.  Mitt’s a tremendously accomplished and able person.  He’s enjoyed great success as a businessman and investor in the private sector and he has experience as an executive in the public sector (as governor of a dark-blue state, no less).  He is therefore a successful businessman who understands both the needs of the free market and the constraints of political office.  On paper, that’s a lot of potential to be a good – even great – president.  So what’s the problem?  It’s not that he isn’t engaging or passionate, because he can be (unlike this guy).  I submit that, although voters may relate to politicians’ personalities, they are not swayed by them.  If voters were swayed by personality alone, Bill Clinton would have gotten more than a plurality of votes in at least one of his presidential elections (Bill Clinton may be a douche, but he’s a charming-as-hell douche).  Voters don’t relate to Mitt because voters relate to a candidate’s vision for the country, and not the candidate himself.  Americans don’t love Ronald Reagan just because he was smart, funny, charming, and likeable, although he was, but because he had a vision for America.

Mitt does not seem to have a vision for our nation.  He comes off as a handy man when this nation desperately needs someone with a big picture sense . . . like an architect.  Sure, he correctly identifies problems and offers reasonable solutions, but he does so in a concrete manner.  Slow or no economic growth?  Cut taxes for individuals and create consistent tax rules for corporations to permit planning.  The U.S. is suffering from a self-induced energy crises?  Mitt’s solutions include regulatory reform, production increases, and more research & development.  Mitt understands that private sector producers create jobs, not the government, which currently inhibits job creation.  His plan for robust job growth?  Leave more capital in the private sector by cutting federal spending and balancing the budget.   Mitt’s foreign policy views are similar – very good concrete approaches to concrete problems.  Mitt holds domestic policy and foreign policy positions with which most Republicans, including conservatives, agree.  However, thus far in the campaign, Mitt lacks “the vision thing.”

Lacking the “vision thing” is a severe problem for presidents and presidential hopefuls alike.  The U.S. Senate website describes the necessity of vision as applied to former President G.H.W. Bush,

Bush also suffered from his lack of what he called ‘the vision thing,’ a clarity of ideas and principles that could shape public opinion and influence Congress.   ‘He does not say why he wants to be there,’ complained columnist George Will, ‘so the public does not know why it should care if he gets his way.’

(emphasis added).  You hear that, Mitt?  Our next president must, of course, offer and fight for concrete solutions to concrete problems, but I believe that Republicans want our nominee, our next president, to articulate the principles that his solutions serve.  Do Americans deserve a tax cut merely because tax cuts will grow our economy and increase the government’s revenue?  No, the economic growth provided by tax cuts for the productive is a byproduct of an underlying premise: economic liberty – the idea that every individual has a right to create wealth, owns that created wealth, and controls its disposal.

Mitt is very good at explaining the what; he is weak at explaining the why.  He can take a lesson from Barry Goldwater, who stated,

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.  I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom.  My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.  It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden.  I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible.  And if I should be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty, and in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

(emphasis added).  Barry Goldwater was a principled advocate for liberty.  In the above quote, he said what he intented to do: reduce government’s size and “extend freedom.”  Then he says how he will do so: by “repeal[ing] laws,” and by canceling unconstitutional, failed, or financially burdensome programs.  And then, most importantly,  he says why he will do so: because our “main interest is liberty.”

Mitt Romney should, first, mind the current gap between himself and the conservative Republican base, many of whom find him suspect.  He may then close that gap by couching his policy proposals in the principle that animates most Americans.  Liberty.  The way Goldwater did.  The way Reagan did.

A handy man can frame a house.  An architect understands and can explain  that frame’s importance to the integrity of the building.  Mitt tells us what he wants to do.  He also needs to tell us why he wants to do it.  He needs to clearly state his vision for America.  If his vision is to ensure a government that abides by our Constitution to enhance liberty, voters will relate to him.  And they will vote for him.

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