Mitt Romney's Character Problem

(Flickr/Vectorportal)

“Character” is a word that Republicans used a lot in the 1990s, by which they meant President Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior. “At least,” my Republican mother said pointedly upon the election of George W. Bush, “he’s a man of character,” unlike the previous guy getting blow jobs from interns in the Oval Office. If their candidate for president this year should lose in November, it will be interesting to see to what extent Republicans understand that character is one of the reasons. As Governor Mitt Romney’s prospects grow more daunting, a view has emerged from the right that the problem is the political flaws and tactical missteps of the candidate and his campaign, in what Republicans insist to themselves should otherwise be a “gimme” election (to quote radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham). But the Romney Problem is more profound, and it’s one of character, not tactics.

Republicans believe they hold the patent on character. I have a friend who, discussing the rightward trajectory of his parents’ politics, related their view that at least Romney and running mate Congressman Paul Ryan are “decent” men while the incumbent president is a “liar.” Among other, less exuberant factions of the electorate, the perception is growing that the opposite is true. Whatever are the deficiencies of the president having to do with competence or communication or ideology or raw skill as it has to do with the levers of power, rank dishonesty of the sort that distinguishes most pols isn’t among them. The conspicuous case of Guantánamo aside, the president has set about fulfilling most of his campaign pledges over the past four years: If you didn’t hear him state fairly explicitly in 2008 his intent to up the ante in Afghanistan as well as to pursue al-Qaeda into Pakistan, then you weren’t really paying attention, or you duped yourself into believing otherwise as, in fact, many on both right and left did. In the ‘08 Democratic primary, Barack Obama got a fair amount of grief from Senator Hillary Clinton on one or both of these points. Obama also said he would wind down the Iraq War, which he did; reform health care, which he did; sign equal-pay-for-equal-work, which he did; support cap-and-trade legislation to curb carbon emissions, which he did; and pursue the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," which he did. It can reasonably be argued that some or all of these things might have been accomplished more completely or punctually or artfully, but it can’t be argued that any constitutes a betrayal of anything proposed in Obama’s campaign.

To the “liar” Obama, the more eminently decent Romney and Ryan present themselves as a Trojan-horse alternative—wheel them into the gates of the city and see what emerges under cover of darkness—having been persuaded by the knuckle-headed dialectic of campaign professionals and political commentators alike that an election is either a referendum or a choice. Elections are both. A 14-year-old (one lives in my house) could tell you this. In the referendum race, the president is at a tipping point; a majority of Americans don’t believe he’s handling the struggling recovery well. By a greater margin—20 points—a majority of Americans believe the recent recession was the fault of not the incumbent but his predecessor and, more pointedly, Republican economic policies as they were practiced and implemented for the first eight years of this century. One of the virtues of character is holding oneself to account, and when right-wing mouthpieces claim this is a “gimme” election, it’s tantamount to self-deception at best and at worst a failure to account for what brought the country to the financial precipice at the end of ‘08, a precipice from which objective economists agree that Obama pulled the country in ‘09—without, it might be noted, any assistance whatsoever from the culpable opposition.

Romney’s current troubles don’t stem from miscalculation or even a duff convention in Tampa but are manifestations of his own political character as heard and witnessed over the past half-decade. This is a man who has altered his positions—not modified, not tailored, not hedged, but utterly transformed—on every single issue from abortion to climate change to the health-care reform that he signed as governor in Massachusetts. Now he runs a campaign that doesn’t want to talk about his record as governor or as a financier and that refuses to put forth an economic alternative of any detail beyond building the Alaska pipeline and lowering taxes for people like himself, even as at the same time he won’t show us what he pays in taxes now or whether he pays taxes at all. His adamant hostility to revealing anything that resembles an authentic belief or credible strategy for accelerating the recovery is not only losing Romney the choice part of the election but the referendum part as well, as the Democrats succeed in making this a referendum on Romney, not Obama. Romney’s selection of Ryan was meant both to reassure the party’s base and bathe the presidential candidate in the glow of the vice-presidential candidate’s reputation as a man of integrity and candor. As evinced by the ticket’s appearances on this past Sunday morning’s news programs and Ryan’s speech at the Republican Convention, when he blamed Obama for a plant that closed during his predecessor’s term and for a Medicare cut that Ryan himself supports and for not embracing a debt-commission report that Ryan himself opposed and for the country’s credit downgrading that Ryan himself brought about as much as any single individual, it is truth-teller Ryan who bathes in the glow of Romney’s irrefutable standing as the phoniest nominee of our lifetime.

It quickly became clear following the Democratic Convention of last week, marked by the first lady’s passion, President Clinton’s persuasion, and President Obama’s acceptance address (savvier than credited by a typically whipped media that’s been frantic for years to call an Obama speech a failure), that barring something unforeseen, the evening of October 3 is now the single most important hour of the rest of this campaign. Of course that will be when the president and his challenger—the liar and the decent man—stand side by side in the first televised debate and Americans assess not only the talking but the walking, which is to say whom they trust, for which the whole much-blathered matter of “likability” is really code. Americans won’t decide whom they would rather have a beer with or whom they would rather have dinner with but whom they could count on to help change their flat tire when the car is stranded by the roadside and they’re standing in the middle of the highway waving their arms for help. Here comes Barack in his hybrid Fusion. He stops and tries to fix the tire, and pretty soon it’s obvious maybe he’s not that great at fixing tires, so while he fusses they try to wave down someone else. Here comes Mitt in his Cadillac. He’s great at fixing tires … on Cadillacs. He claims he’s great at fixing other tires too but gives no indication of such, and in fact gives no indication that he would know another other tire if he saw it. It doesn’t matter anyway because not only isn’t Mitt going to stop, it’s not certain he even sees anyone in the middle of the highway waving their arms or that he won’t run them over if he does.

If Romney loses, Republicans and the political right will act as if Romney was something that happened to them, when the truth is that Romney is something the Republicans did to themselves. Romney is the final outcome of a party that subjects its prospective nominees to one increasingly unhinged litmus test after another, that will not abide anyone who would accept a single dollar of raised tax revenue for ten dollars of spending cuts, anyone who would acknowledge that deporting twelve million Latinos is impractical if not wrong, anyone who would recognize that the weather has gotten just a bit peculiar lately if not freakish, anyone who would condemn the furor over the president’s birthplace as racist at its sanest and insane at its insanest, anyone who would concede that God really might have taken longer than seven days to create the world. A Jeb Bush—the closest thing to a slam-dunk candidate that the GOP could have nominated this year—declined to offer himself not only because of his last name but because he didn’t want to run that gauntlet, and may never want to. The first test of character, and the one that counts most, is taking responsibility not only for what one says and does but who and what one is.

Comments

Damn straight article. When he first debated as a Republican candidate, I thought Romney was the moderate of the bunch and the one I would be most able to live with should Obama lose the election. What I have seen and learned since is far different. Romney will wear any costume as long as he is elected but also possibly because the Mormon church would be able to thus claim mainstream American status. He displays a stunning lack of character, that is, the ends justify the means whatever the cost. His nomination for the Republican party's next president reveals the shocking truth of what the Republican party has become.

In Mitt Romney's mind, the Mormon Church would not only become mainstream American, there is a Mormon prophesy about the first Mormon president. The meaning is much deeper for Mitt. He would become the fulfillment of prophesy for his church. Nevermind that he is an empty suit.

How can we get this essay into the hands, and heads, of undecided voters?

I, also, was lulled into believing that should Romney be elected, it wouldn't be as bad as one of the rest of the line-up - - excluding Huntsman -- being elected. My thoughts were somewhat influenced by the fact of Romney having been elected Governor in a state like Massachusetts. Now, I am totally mystified with regard to that election. He is, at least, all of the things mentioned above, and probably many more would come to light were he to be elected come November. And that is now a very frightening thought.

You say: "Romney is the final outcome of a party that subjects its prospective nominees to one increasingly unhinged litmus test after another."

Romney is not the final outcome of this GOP trend. There will be another in 2016 and again in 2020. My suspicion is that Hilary Clinton will run and will reduce the candidate fielded by the GOP to tatters. The GOP may think that they have a decent bench for 2016, including Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Tim Pawlenty (maybe) and several other candidates with the good sense not to run in 2012. Whatever appeal they may seem to have at the outset, they will be a quivering mess by the time they get through the crazy-making nomination process and won't look a lot different from Romney in their flip-flopping and bizarre pronouncements.

The GOP is a religious cult, operating from the fundamental approach of a cult: Our received wisdom is infallible. If it isn't working, we need to do more of it.

As a result, the GOP will continue to lose presidential elections until they break out of the fundamentalist mindset and reclaim the party from the wing nuts who demand unbending ideological purity. Your statement implied that could happen after 2012. But given the tone of the panicking conservative establishment, they are already settling in for a round of "Republican ideas always work, so it must have been a crappy candidate." That says they're not likely to be able to admit their policies and ideas are really at the root of why they keep losing.

A homogenizing global population won't be tolerant of exclusionary and discriminatory policies. The global social trend is towards progress and equality for citizens of all countries. As borders cease to contain this human trend, ideas that seek to hem this evolution will be superceded by a political mood devoid of strident isolationism and classism. The idealism of the type fostered by right-wing conservatives is, like their name G 'old' P.

What I learned from the V.P. debate if Romney/Ryan get elected:

If you are under 55, Ryan & Romney want you to forfeit your lifetime of social security contributions and do battle with for-profit insurance companies throughout your golden years. If you support a woman's right to make decisions about her reproductive life, including abortion and birth control, you will be at the mercy of the states in which you live (i.e. Mississippi). People like Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, and Donald Trump will have their taxes lowered by 20% while the rest of America has to guess as to which one of their itemized deductions will be eliminated (mortgage interest?).

Vote Straight Democratic Tickets Please. For our families, and our children's future. Thank you!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvTIphPnDM8

October 15, 2012
Hello, my fellow American voters!
I watched the Oct. 3rd presidential and Oct. 11th vice-presidential debates.
Romney-Obama debate covered 7 topics: jobs; budget deficit/debt; social security/entitlements; federal regulation of economy; healthcare; federal government role in economy; partisan gridlock.
Ryan-Biden debate covered 10 topics: Libya; Iran; economy; medicare/social security/entitlements; taxes/tax reform/spending/budget cuts; military policy; Afghanistan; Syria; abortion; negative campaign tactics.
As an INDEPENDENT, I support the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Romney and Ryan won both debates.
Ryan won despite Biden’s consistently rude/disrespectful behavior during the debate.
Biden’s tactics to evade issues/truth were disrespectful to Americans interested in facts, figures, forecasts, and solutions for real people with real problems.
Biden interrupted Ryan often, laughed often while Ryan was talking, and pointed his finger often.
Romney and Ryan won with substance, integrity, respect, clarity, facts, commitment, inspiration, and leadership. But these debates are NOT about who wins but rather about who is the best person in terms of qualifications/character to lead our country to solve problems and make life better for all Americans.
I am inspired by Romney/Ryan, and I hope that you are too!
Best regards,
Cas Lee

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