Mitt Romney: most himself when on the attack.
Mitt Romney’s options, now that his pesky sideshow sidekicks are out of the way, include the opportunity to redefine himself, Etch-a-Sketch style, for general consumption. Instead, in the days since their demise, he has continued only to offer his robo-style attacks on President Obama as “a failed president.” As the Washington Post put it, “Romney has long attempted to paint Obama as a failed president whose policies have slowed the economic recovery while enlarging the government and building up deficits and debt.”
While prospective voters have heard the sound of Romney’s voice for months now, they have virtually no idea what he actually stands for, except for his promise to shrink the federal government. All they really know about him is what he stood for as Governor of Massachusetts, and that’s all so nineties, so lefty, now.
While much of the media coverage of Romney touches on his remarkable stiffness and his tin ear when it comes to self-characterization, the fact that he is an empty vessel is somewhat underreported. With his history as a failed candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008, and his even more ancient history as a partner at Bain Capital, this guy’s expiration dates way past prime. You know how they talk about how one’s job skills begin to deteriorate after as little as 24 months off the job, at least when you are a ninety-nine percenter? Romney’s been off the grid for years.
Of course it is impossible for him to talk about his one, major success as governor of Massachusetts—RomneyCare. And that irrefutable bit of history makes him appear strangely disingenuous when he accuses Obama of being “a failed president” given that they share the same primary achievement in their respective tenures as leaders.
Is Obama a “failed president?” No way; not when you measure him against a real failed president. And we just happen to have one handy. I’m thinking of two unfunded, ill-focused wars, one of which was totally based on bogus grounds. I’m thinking of gargantuan tax giveaways to the rich. I’m thinking of someone on whose watch—and due to the near-complete capture of government by his free-market cronies—the economy went into a catastrophic meltdown. But then again, no Republican will utter his name. Why?
If you look at Romney in comparison to George W. Bush, his ideas are more similar to our most recent failed president than all of his Republican challengers combined, (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, because with Newt, you never really know.)
A number of pundits have predicted that this year’s campaign for president will be the nastiest of all time. With all the Super Pacs in the mix that prediction would be hard to refute. And then there’s Romney, ugly early, with only the “failed president” meme to hang his hat on.
Obama 2009-12 may go down in history as an inexperienced centrist president who initially did okay facing an economic meltdown, then got trounced by a gridlocked Congress fueled by fanatic conservatives. That doesn’t make him a failed president. It just means the Republicans in Congress had only one goal for four years—to make him look like a failed president. But the bailout and stimulus package were huge, necessary, and moderately effective. The auto deal was brilliant. And the Affordable Care Act was a far cry better than nothing. His handling of Wall Street, not so much. His impetus for reform—mild, mild, mild. His acceptance of Bush-era security protocols—well let’s not talk about that. But we can bet Romney won’t either.
The truth about Obama from the point of view of the center-left is that he failed us in a variety of ways. But. He was no John McCain. He was no John Boehner. He was no Michelle Bachmann. He was no Mitch McConnell. And he was no Mitt Romney. That’s why he deserves another term. Because he is better than the rest. Sorry if that disappoints.
Mitt Romney has been underestimated on just one front. He is an effective negative campaigner. He’s a debater. He’s got the tone, the hair, the pat put-downs; I expect him to land some punches in debates with Obama. But after that, he’s in no man’s land, because, unlike Obama, he can’t win if he manifests as who he really is. So instead we get disingenuous attacks—like the “war on women.”
The war on women meme is especially galling because the fact that many women have been thrown out of work during Obama’s presidency emanates from deep in actual Republican practice. It takes more space than I have here to explain properly, but the short version goes like this: Early in the meltdown job losses were especially prominent in male-dominated fields like home construction. The Obama stimulus package contained significant support to states that kept large numbers of workers in fields with strong female numbers, fields like teaching and state government work, on the job, through the first year and a half of the recession. Then came the Republican counteroffensive with its emphasis on deficits and the federal spigot to states was shut off just as states began to experience the greatest effects of budget shortfalls due to tax losses generated by the recession, compounded by historically low tax rates at state levels. And the federal largesse was curtailed by its own deficit tax base caused not just by the recession, perhaps not even primarily by the recession, but by the near decade-long tax starvation caused by the Bush tax cuts. That’s why women lost their jobs under Obama.
It was no war on women. It was more a Republican war on working people. Certainly it’s been a Republican war on the working poor, a condition that has put nearly unbearable pressures on single moms attempting to care for their children and hold down jobs. What the right has offered—maybe not Romney personally, but his buds—is that those women should have thought about that before they had children. That’s a war on women.
Certainly in the days to come Romney or his surrogates will lay the appalling GSA scandal at the president’s feet. I wonder if we will forget that overall his term has been remarkably scandal free. I wonder if we will forget that the yardstick, scandal-wise, must remain the Bush administration’s Oops No WMDs scandal—that mother of all scandals. I think we should worry most about scandals that result in large wholesale death counts, but somehow, back in the aughts, it just wasn't relevant. Perhaps we can compare how relevant this scandal will be in its ultimate effects. Meanwhile, I would suggest a little more due diligence in office like the office of the comptroller and the OMB to perhaps review government party costs with a red pen in hand.
As for Romney, the real question is, who is he really? Where does he want to take us? Where does he really stand, platitudes and gratuitous attacks, aside? And would he care to share with us one hard, real-world policy decision he would be prepared to make, such as, what, specifically, would he replace ObamaCare with? I think many people on both sides of the divide would like to hear him answer that, for starters.
“Prominent party leaders, unsettled by the frequently combative tone of Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign, are pressing the presumptive Republican nominee to leaven his harsh criticism of President Obama with an optimistic conservative vision that can inspire the party faithful, appeal to swing voters and set out a governing agenda should he win in November,” according the article entitled “Republicans Urge Romney to Promote Positive Vision.” (4/25/12) The group offering this advice includes such Romney stalwarts as Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Doesn’t it seem highly unlikely that they would go public with such a message if they thought that Romney was on the right track?