Wednesday, January 16, 2008

# Posted 3:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ROMNEY ISN'T A PHONY, BUT I UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE THINK HE IS: Dean Barnett seems to be the lonely voice that speaks for Mitt Romney at the Weekly Standard. In Tuesday's NY Times, Barnett describes his personal connection to Mitt Romney, dating back to 1994. Barnett writes,
I spent a lot of time with Mr. Romney that year, and I occasionally served as his volunteer driver, taking him to local campaign events. The Mitt Romney I got to know was warm and likable. He had an electric intelligence. He was unfailingly decent. He was totally committed to his family. He treated everyone with respect and kindness.

If you’re like most politically attuned Americans, you probably don’t agree with my description of Mr. Romney. You may consider him to be the personification of political ambition. You possibly believe he will say anything to get elected president. You might even consider him one of the least honorable politicians in the country.

As a longtime admirer of Mr. Romney’s, it pains me that many Americans believe these things. Even worse, Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign has given them cause to feel this way.
I guess the question is, who's responsible for Romney's campaign? Barnett doesn't avoid that question. His answer is Mitt Romney:
Early in the presidential race, Mr. Romney perceived a tactical advantage in becoming the campaign’s social conservative...

This tack rang false with the public because it was false. The problem wasn’t so much the perception of widespread “flip-flopping” on issues like abortion. The public allows its politicians a measure of flexibility. But the public correctly sensed something disingenuous about Mr. Romney’s campaign.

Voters perceived the cynicism of a campaign that tried to exploit wedge issues rather than focus on the issues that in truth most interested the candidate. They sensed phoniness. As a consequence, many have grown to feel that Mitt Romney can’t be trusted. This lack of trust is now the dominant and perhaps insurmountable obstacle that the Romney campaign faces.
Although Barnett seems to be describing all of this as an unfortunate tactical error, I would argue that a failure to appreciate the importance of character and principle may compromise one's ability to serve as commander-in-chief. Now let me add on to that some pure speculation: Romney's ability to rapidly change his persona and values reflects his extraordinary success as a business executive. On that point, I'd be very interested in the observations of those of you who have had extensive experience in the private sector.

My sense is that the private sector places such a high premium on achieving results in the next month or next year that it has little interest in whether a chief executive has consistent principles. But great presidents must always take a longer view. Much as I support McCain, I suspect that Romney would be a very competent administrator of the federal government. I also believe he would be fairly moderate and favor a good degree of bipartisanship. I'd certainly vote for him over any of the Democrats.


(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

I know Mitt Romney is vulnerable to charges that he has no principles, having morphed from a moderate Republican governor of a liberal Democratic state into... well, what kind of Republican do I need to be today? But as to his basic values, I have no doubt that he is a good family man as well as a responsible public servant. I first came into contact with significant numbers of Mormons while serving in the military, and with almost no exceptions found them to be completely trustworthy people. So despite their strange religious doctrine (and it is strange!) most Mormons have, I think, been exposed to if not fully inculcated in positive family values and a meaningful public service ethic. They are good citizens, by and large. Romney was a decent governor and would likely be a decent president, although he has close to zero chance of proving it, the Current Incumbent having pretty well trashed his party's chances this year.
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