I was recently asked the following question:
Why do you like Romney so much?
And my answer, finally, after almost a month of cogitating, is as follows:
This is a complicated question, but definitely one worth answering.
Let me start with the simplest possible answer. It’s not that I like Romney so much: it’s that Romney is not Obama. Given what Obama has shown us with respect to his political persuasion and his character, that already counts for a lot. Knowing what Romney is not is just as useful to me as knowing what he is.
But let me return to Romney and how he strikes me. I had a surprisingly hard time distilling this, and I had to watch him and listen for a quite while before I got a feel for him. Then, in a flash of inspiration, I reached for that universal tool of trenchant, accurate description of all things, namely Yiddish; and voilà and simsalabim, things magically came together.
Romney, to put it simply and, of course, in Yiddish, is a mensch. He strikes me as a decent man, with nothing flashy about him. He has a demonstrated record of achievement. He understands democracy as well as democracy’s economic component, capitalism. He comes armed with experience in the real world, and his ideas therefore make sense. He thinks that this country is a good one, and sees no need to apologize for its greatness or to exaggerate its faults. He is open about his religion and the perspectives it has given him. Last but not least, he is so stiff on a podium that no one would ever dream of giving him the Nobel Peace Prize – or indeed any award – simply for existing, or for his rhetoric, or for the color of his skin. In my view, there is much to be said for that.
As a matter of fact, Romney’s ordinariness is downright Trumanesque. And yes, at this point, having watched him and listened to him enough, I can say that I like him.
But back to Romney not being Obama.
Robert Dallek’s seminal study of the Presidency, Hail to the Chief, lists five qualities of an effective President. These are: (1) vision, (2) political pragmatism, (3) national consensus, (4) personal connection with the people and (5) credibility. Obama is so self-absorbed and incompetent that he fails on all five accounts.
Vision. Obama’s vision is that of a classical reactionary. In other words, he believes in a political structure in which central authority practically always trumps other centers of authority, including particularly the individual human being (unless it is propagandistically advantageous to show the reverse).
It is irrelevant whether one calls this kind of organization socialism, fascism, communism, nazism, progressivism, corporatism or something else. The fundamental principles and the end results are always the same: the end of the rule of law, arbitrary rule that leads to tyranny and reversal of progress, propaganda to the contrary nothwithstanding. Worst of all (again, propaganda claims notwithstanding) is the marginalization and infantilization of the individual human being and the treatment of the individual human being as the most disposable asset of all.
If I can discern any trend in history, it is the trend away from excessive centralization and toward the enfranchisement of the individual – politically, socially and economically – by means of the establishment of functional checks and balances so that no center of power can overwhelm any other. That is to say, the trend, over time, is away from dictatorship and toward freedom. And therein lies the reactionary nature – and the failure – of Obama’s vision.
Political pragmatism. Obama’s idea of pragmatism is that others bow down before him, his vision and his demands. The idea of working with others seems foreign to him. He will dictate to others, but not work with them. Examples abound: (no) budget, the monster of Obamacare (Lenin, by the way, made it clear that monopolizing medicine is the most efficient way of making people dependent on government), gutting the military, ruling by executive decree and through unelected czars etc. A dictator need not be pragmatic. And why should he?
National consensus. Obama seeks none. Being a dictator, he is merely interested in forcing his vision on others. Everyone else is demonized, every other perspective is demonized, as the extraordinarily vitriolic Obama re-election campaign demonstrates.
Personal connection with the people. There is none. Obama seems to need none. People, except for someone like Valerie Jarrett who has some peculiar kind of hold on him, are an unwelcome distraction.
This, by the way, is not my conclusion alone. Some of his most significant supporters and colleagues have said the same thing as they finally turned away from him. Some have speculated that it’s simply because he is an introvert; that may be part of it, but by no means all of it. In my view, he really believes that he is some kind of “transformational” manifestation and the key player on the world stage, and who, to quote the immortally idiotic words of Newsweek editor Evans (2009), is like “a god who stands above the country, above the globe” and makes the seas recede. I, as an Eastern European refugee, simply “don’t do” cult of personality.
Credibility. I do not think that most Americans share Obama’s reactionary vision, instead preferring democracy and genuine progress. Four years of supercilious lecturing, cowardly leading from behind, easy association with dictators, openly racist and anti-Jewish appointees, refusal to accommodate with others, unilateral and often extralegal actions and, above all, the constant and astonishingly transparent lying have cost Obama all credibility with the majority of Americans, except for his (admittedly many) groupies.
Returning to Romney…
The five factors cited above define Obama’s failure, but they will, or may, also define Romney’s success. Romney’s (now Romney/Ryan’s) vision of the United States is that it is a good place. Romney surely has a lot to learn about being the Chief Executive (what new President hasn’t?), but he has demonstrated pragmatism and the ability to build consensus before reaching the White House. Despite, or perhaps because of, his ordinariness, he connects well with ordinary people, thereby irritating the self-appointed elites to no end. He is credible because he has actual leadership and management experience, because he speaks like an ordinary human being, and, above all, because he does not pose as that proverbial “god who stands above the country, above the globe.” In fact, I have the impression that if anyone wrote something like that about Romney, Romney would dial the idolater’s number and tell him to shut it or else stand by to “need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below” (shades of Truman in 1950).
Romney is hardly a complete solution for our country’s current troubles, but I think that he has a genuine chance to become that proverbial beefsteak which will soothe and heal the many black eyes that Obama has inflicted on us.