The Case For Mitt Romney

Why Mitt?  I’m asked the question almost every day.  Friends will pull me aside at church, casual acquaintances will stop me at Wal-Mart, and longtime colleagues will call for extended conversations.  They see me as a rare breed:  The “movement” conservative who is unabashedly, enthusiastically for Mitt Romney.


The answer begins with the time, this moment in American history.  Every few decades, turns in the business cycle, changes in culture, and policy mistakes conspire to make us question ourselves.  Is the American Dream still alive?  Will our children do better than we did?  Is America, after two hundred years of growth and hope, finally in decline?

The Great Recession may be over but what came afterwards — high structural unemployment and massive deficit spending — looks more like France than America.  We’re worried.  And with good reason.

Four years ago, a worried America turned to an untested, brand-new Senator from Illinois, a man who promised not just “hope and change” but that he could even heal our planet.  But we’re wiser now.  We’ve seen that behind the soaring rhetoric was the “Chicago way,” and an approach to fiscal policy that was unconventional only in its recklessness.  A pork-laden stimulus package more costly than the Iraq War?  Check.  A health care plan rammed through with procedural tricks and against the express wishes of a majority of Americans?  Check.  Unthinking class warfare against job creators and job providers?  Check.

We need a turnaround.  And there’s no better-qualified politician in America to execute a turnaround than Mitt Romney.  It’s what he’s done his entire career.

As a much younger man, Mitt Romney was named CEO of the struggling Bain & Company and brought it all the way back from the brink, leaving it financially healthy and prosperous. He helped found Bain Capital and turned it into an economic powerhouse, creating thousands of private-sector jobs and leaving it with $4 billion under management.

After his private sector success, he was called to save the Salt Lake City Olympics – the first post-9/11 games – from corruption and fiscal collapse. He turned an almost $400 million deficit into a $100 million profit – all while maintaining safety and security in tense times. Then, as governor of Massachusetts, he turned a $3 billion budget deficit into a $700 million surplus and left office with a 4.7 percent state unemployment rate.

Imagine for a moment  you’re interviewing a job applicant.  Your company is struggling, and you need somebody who can make you profitable again.  Several of the applicants have impressive-sounding ideas, but only one of the candidates has actually made it happen — has actually executed the turnaround — not once, not twice, but three times, in different places and contexts.  That person gets the job, and it’s not even close.

Yes, I know the presidency is about more than economics.  We also look to our presidents to defend life and to be a force for good in our culture.  And that’s what makes Mitt Romney’s record all the more impressive.  In Massachusetts — one of America’s most liberal states — he won a political leadership award from Massachusetts Citizens for Life after he vetoed expanded access to the so-called “morning after” abortion pill and vetoed a bill permitting embryonic stem cell research.  And in the battle for marriage, Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, writes: “Mitt Romney didn’t just oppose court-ordered same-sex marriage with words, he fought hard, including behind the scenes.”

What does all this mean?  It means that Mitt Romney — an admitted convert on the abortion issue — has a better conservative record than did Ronald Reagan before he became president.

Yes, Mitt Romney is the architect of “Romneycare,” but if you actually look at the history, you’ll see that he did exactly what we’d like to see blue state conservative governors do.  Faced with veto-proof Democratic majorities committed to a punitive and destructive health-care reform, he expressly sought the counsel of leading conservative thinkers to fashion a much better alternative to the Democratic plan and then succeeded in passing it with overwhelming bipartisan support.  No, it’s not perfect (as Mitt freely admits), but Massachusetts citizens have a far better health plan than they’d have if Mitt weren’t governor.

As for Romneycare’s differences with Obamacare, I can summarize them in two sentences:  In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney balanced the budget then reached across the aisle to create a popular health reform program that was specifically designed for the unique needs of his state. Barack Obama, on the other hand, created a huge new entitlement program in an era of record deficits by ramming a possibly unconstitutional, one-size-fits all mandate through a reluctant congress and over the expressed objections of a majority of the American people.

Finally, I support Mitt Romney in part because of his faith. Faithful to his wife and an exemplary father to his sons, there has never been even a hint of scandal around Mitt.  He is a man of integrity because of his faith, not in spite of it, and if he makes it into the oval office I’ll know his values are grounded in something far more profound than political expediency, opinion polls, or purely personal philosophies.

If you wondered why I’ve spent countless hours over the past six years arguing that Mitt Romney should be our next president.  Now you know.  Republicans should not think they’re “settling” for Mitt; instead they’re selecting the right man at exactly the right time.

Let the turnaround begin.

Are Evangelicals Moving Left?

On life issues, no.  On economics?  Maybe.

I discussed the issue yesterday on Wallbuilders (click to listen).

Depravity Watch

Thanks again to the indispensable Walter Russell Mead, I ran across this piece from the Washington Post telling the chilling truth that 1 in 3 Americans who began their lives middle class has slipped “down the income ladder.”

It’s certainly true that this number includes hard-working Americans who’ve fallen on hard times, folks who’ve made all the best decisions but face involuntary job loss, medical bills, or other misfortunes.  But who is hardest hit?

Downward mobility is most common among middle-class people who are divorced or separated from their spouses, did not attend college, scored poorly on standardized tests, or used hard drugs, the report says.

Shocking.  Simply shocking.

As Mead says, there is a fairly simple strategy for staying middle class: Go to college, get married, stay married, and stay off the hard drugs.  There are no guarantees in life, of course, but do those things and the odds are with you.  Deviate from that formula and your life is harder.  It’s pretty simple in concept; sometimes difficult in execution.

I like Mead’s conclusion:

Do those simple things and the odds are on your side.  The keys to a financially successful life seem to be family, education, sobriety. Seems boring and obvious, doesn’t it?  But it also suggests that American life isn’t quite as bad as the press wants to paint it.

There are lots of scary economic trends out there, but pessimism can be overdone.  Take a deep breath and relax, millennials.  The press hypes bad economic news and troubling trends the same way it hypes hurricanes and for the same reason: panic sells.

America is still a place where hard work and smart thinking pay off; most of you are going to get out of your parents’ house sooner than the press would have you believe.

The connection of poverty and downward mobility to personal choices is a message of hope, not hopelessness.  It is only in the bizarre world of political correctness and mindless self-esteem that this is considered bad news.  To some it is apparently more important that we not assign blame than it is to confront reality.  For any given individual, there is a path — not a guarantee, but a path — to prosperity.

Poverty and Depravity: Responding to Readers

Since my posts last week triggered such strong reactions from the Left — both here and on NRO — I thought I’d take some time to respond to some of the more thoughtful reader critiques.

First, from Mark Mays:

Any anti-poverty effort should include components aimed at getting kids to complete their HS degree and strive towards college. That should be a given, and many programs do. But the aims of any anti-poverty effort would be truly ill-served by the use of ridiculously hyperbolic and judgmental language like “depravity.”

As to encouraging people to stay married, it is ultimately a personal choice, and as a leftist it seems to me antithetical to the conservative position against interference in the personal lives of Americans. Shikata ga nai, as they say in Japan (it can’t be helped).

Of course the most successful preventative measures for decreasing the number of out of wedlock births, sex ed, contraception promotion, are pooh-poohed in favor of teaching abstinence or ignoring the matter until it is too late.

It serves no one to act as if it is still the 1950′s. The race has already started and us older married types w/ kids need to recognize the times have changed.

Yes, times have changed but biblical truth has not.  Divorce (in many, if not most circumstances) and extramarital sex are sins.  Drug abuse and criminality are sins.  If we surrender to a culture that has allegedly progressed past such “1950’s” thinking then we surrender to the persistent negative cultural effects of this sinful behavior.  Why should we do that?  What compelling reason exists?

As for the effectiveness of contraception promotion and sex ed for preventing out of wedlock births, contraception has never been more available, non abstinence-based sex-ed is the norm, and it is even legal for mothers to have their unborn child killed in the womb, yet out-of-wedlock births are “soaring.”

As for the alleged “conservative” position against “interfering with personal lives of Americans,” I’d just say that’s a grotesque simplification of conservative thought.  I’m not a libertarian.  I’m opposed to no-fault divorce, opposed to abortion, and believe that the Supreme Court has stepped far beyond its constitutional bounds by concocting various individual rights that have no textual or historical basis in the Constitution.

At the same time, it’s simply not the case that my opposition to certain personal choices mandates a coercive governmental response.  In other words, societal problems do not always necessitate governmental action, and the government can often do more harm than good.  My core position is that the government has been wasting hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the wrong problem and that many Christians are failing to see both the poor and their own obligations clearly.

The Rev. David Willerup said this:

While the essay addresses the correlation between material and spiritual poverty in a tone that resonates with fiscal and social conservatives, it fails to address a crucial truth on its way to a severely simplified answer to a tremendously complex problem.

The author divides people into “us/we” who are educated, materially blessed and married, and “they/them” who are undereducated, materially poor and in or from broken relationships. They are depraved. We are not.

But depravity isn’t a condition belonging to the materially impoverished. Depravity is a condition common to all humanity, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is not one righteous non-depraved person among us. Not only does that make us all absolutely dependent on the grace of God for our salvation, but it also levels the playing field.

We’re all depraved, and that fundamental truth must inform all we do to alleviate poverty. From a spiritual perspective, it is arrogant and Pharisaical to assume that believers with cash are automatically qualified to determine what the materially poor need. Better by far to let the mind of Christ be in us and humble ourselves, to not grasp for the status of education or wealth, but to become servants who are willing to, as Isaiah says, “spend yourselves on behalf of the poor.”

That spending of self is not about educational programs or marriage enrichment. Such things are definitely helpful, but what matters more is relationship, the spending of self – not resources or political clout – but of time and caring and personal faith. To believe in someone who is also created in God’s image, for whom God sent his Son to die, and among whom God is, has been, and will be at work to show evidence of his grace, now *that* will break the yoke of poverty’s oppression.

I appreciate the thoughtful comments and civil delivery, but Reverend Willerup has erected a straw man.  I’ve never argued that the the poor are depraved and we are not.  I’ve never argued that the rich are more virtuous.  In fact, as a Calvinist, I completely understand our universal depravity.

The rich, however, have greater capacity to absorb the consequences of their sinful actions, but persistent out of wedlock births, divorce, and other forms of sin (like drug abuse and criminality) do cause downward mobility over time — especially for those who have little margin to begin with.  As I said on National Review, we can’t all keep up with the Kardashians.

The Reverend continues:

Why? Because, as cited by the International Monetary Fund, the poor do not describe poverty in terms of a lack of resources. It is about powerlessness, having no voice, feeling trapped, inferior and alone. When someone approaches such a person to tell them why they’re failing and what they have to do, that’s not heard as helpful. It reinforces that sense of entrapment and communicates blame. To develop ongoing independence a relationship rooted in the recognition of mutual poverty and brokenness is required.

The materially poor do not need more hoops to jump through. They don’t need more programs and requirements and policies. Give yourself, your love, your time. Listen for evidence of God’s grace. And don’t ever assume that because you’ve got money and education and marriage that you have the right to pop out of that servant’s position to assume a position of superiority. There’s no better way to galvanize someone’s sense of inferiority than to claim a moral high ground which no depraved person has the right to take.

Give Carson and Fikkert’s “When Helping Hurts” (Moody Press) a read. That book has changed my perspective on poverty completely.

Regarding the IMF, I think it’s useful here to distinguish between absolute poverty (such as experienced in parts of Africa, Asia, etc.) and the relative poverty of the prosperous West, where our “poor” live better than the vast majority of humanity.  For those in absolute poverty lack of resources is a matter of life and death.  My essay was not addressed to those individuals but instead to the realities of American poverty.

Biblical truth can be communicated in harsh and pharisaical ways, and it can be communicated with love and humility, pointing towards the Cross.  The goal is to galvanize repentance and redemption, not to establish (mythical) superiority, and there’s simply no formula for redemption.  After all, it is ultimately not in our hands.

This comment is from Louis Sanchez:

I have observed “the poor”, and worked with the poor, and was once probably considered poor myself. This idea of lumping “the poor” into one box with one solution is simply more talk and little action. The poor I have met and served are able to be put in several different categories, try these…. with teeth without teeth, (go try and get a job without teeth), Submissive and antagonistic, with capacity for love, no capacity for love, extreme psychological damage, Extreme abandonment issues, giving up on “being” normal and “middle class” successful. etc, etc, etc….

Louis is exactly right that you cannot lump the poor into one box.  People are poor for many reasons, and there is no formula that guarantees success (just ask the hundreds of thousands of college graduates fighting to find jobs in this economy).  However, when one looks at the problem of poverty as expressed in a nation of more than 300 million, certain trends do emerge.  While marriage and an education are no guarantee of success, they undeniably give an individual a fighting chance.

At the same time, when Louis discusses the individuals he knows, he distinctly avoids any language of moral accountability.  Does an individual have no teeth because they’re addicted to crack or meth?  What about the person with no capacity to love?  Has he made any choices?  It is not harsh or judgmental or unbiblical to ask that our fellow citizens make better choices, and we do them no favors when we sometimes literally incentivize sin.  Of course the manner of our service matters a great deal, but we should not infantilize our fellow citizens and treat them as if they are merely passive recipients of the cards life has dealt them.  And yes, sometimes that means using the language of sin and repentance.

After all, Christ and his apostles did.  We would do well to follow their example.



Poverty and Unemployment Facts, Collected

My statement that it is “simply a fact that people who work hard, finish their education, get married, and stay married are rarely — very rarely — poor” has kicked up a hornet’s nest here on the Revolution, on NRO, at the Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere.  While I unpacked my theological arguments a bit more in this post, I thought I’d share some core facts about unemployment, eduction, education, and marital status.

Unemployment rate of civilians with less than a high school diploma: 14.1%

Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma (but no college): 9.1%

Unemployment rate of civilians with a high school diploma and some college or an associate’s degree:  8.5%

Unemployment rate of civilians with bachelor’s degree and higher:  4.7%

Poverty rate of individuals who worked full-time, year-round:  2.7%

Poverty rate for all workers (including part-time): 6.9%

Median annual household income for a household with a  married couple:  $71,830.00

Median annual household income for a male householder, no wife present:  $48,084

Median annual household income for a female householder, no husband present: $32,597

Poverty rate for a family with a married couple:  5.9%

Poverty rate for a family with a male householder, no wife present: 16.9%

Poverty rate for a family with a female householder, no husband present: 29.9%

These statistics don’t even include the effects of drug use and criminality.  If we can easily identify the risk factors for poverty, shouldn’t our anti-poverty efforts be focused on those risk factors?  Why do we de-humanize the poor by pretending they’re incapable of staying in school, of abstaining from pre-marital sex, of getting married or staying married?

No single person reading this blog can change the macro-economic forces that have driven factories out of cities and limited opportunities in vast areas of our country, but is your message to the poor that they should throw up their hands and give in to the temptations of destructive behavior?  Or is your message something different: that their parents’ choices don’t define their destinies, that they can persevere, and when they d0 — even it is the challenge of a lifetime — not only will their lives be better but their children will have much greater prospects?

Or why leave your involvement with a mere message?  After all, the thoughts in your head — even if passionately expressed on a blog comment board — are basically irrelevant to any person’s destiny.  Why not invest yourself fully in individual lives?  Mentor young people, take in foster children, think about adopting the orphaned and abandoned.  Take action to counter the prevailing pressures of the poverty-stricken communities with your own, living breathing example.  No one is righteous, but we can point our struggling neighbors to the One who gives life and hope.

But as you reach out, understand that you’re taking a risk.  Hollywood endings are rare.  I’ve been robbed, exploited, and left heartbroken by some of the kids I tried to mentor, but there are few greater joys than seeing the work of the Gospel in the heart of a young guy who was drifting into oblivion and witnessing a true transformation as cycles of poverty and despair turn into lives of virtue and promise.

The poor are accountable for their actions — as we all are — but with accountability comes hope.  There is a better way.