The Upside to the Downgrade for Mitt Romney

Let’s review for a moment.

The American stock market is cratering.  It’s lost roughly ten percent of its value in the last two trading days.  In fact, by some measures, yesterday was the worst day ever for stock markets worldwide.  Just when the European sovereign debt crisis seems to be easing away, the contagion flourishes somewhere else; worse, it’s moving up the food-chain to countries too large for the European Central Bank to simply bail out.  China shows no inclination to change its distortionary monetary policies.  And the American economy staggers under a mountainous weight of debt, teetering on the verge of a second recession.  Even if the stock market performs better today, the trend has been steeply downward and the volatility is distressing.

What’s particularly worrisome for Americans is (1) we’ve already spent so much of the ammunition in the economy-stimulating arsenal, and to little effect, and (2) the political elite show no signs of the capacity and sincere commitment to solve these problems with courage, innovation and common purpose.  It’s hard to think of any American President in living memory who possesses less experience in the private sector than President Obama.  And — all partisanship aside — it shows.  When it comes to creating jobs, balancing budgets, and restoring positive economic momentum, Barack Obama cannot speak from experience.

Thus the alarming superficiality of Obama’s speeches on the economy.  There’s no there there, no lifetime of memories and lessons learned, no core of hard-knocks experience on which to stand.  All he has is theory — the ideology he inherited (uncritically, it seems to me) in the classroom, which become the interpretive grid for his work as a community organizer, and which he promoted in the Illinois State Senate and briefly in the U. S. Senate.  In one moment he emits the most gaseous rhetoric about American ingenuity and green energy and everyone paying their fair share, in the next moment he’s placing blame and casting aspersions on the opposition, then he indulges in a little high-minded talk of post-partisan problem solving, and in the next moment his “bluff” collapses in self-interested accommodation — then, for the coup de grâce, he touts the accommodation as a great victory on his part.

Even his most devout followers find themselves puzzled and disappointed.  His boosters at the New York Times admit that Obama has no “robust vision to invigorate the economy.”  This is a surprise?  Obama responded to the S & P downgrade and the dramatic stock market tumble by recommending…extending unemployment benefits for another year, spending more money on infrastructure (he really means it this time), and keeping payroll taxes lowered.  This is not creative thinking.  It’s not inspiring.  And it shows how impoverished is the economic philosophy he inherited.  It’s easy to feel sympathy.  I’m afraid that President Obama finds himself at that awkward, horrible, humbling moment when one discovers that the ideology to which he has devoted himself simply does not work in the real world.  Whether he is willing to admit it and change course will make a big difference for the country and for his reelection.

This explains a lot.  Just when America needs a CEO for a President, it has a community organizer for President instead.

So, here’s the question: How do you like Mitt Romney now?

It may be churlish to ask who benefits from the economic turmoil politically, and it goes without saying that much can change in fourteen months.  Yet just when we are — and have been for three years now — confronting the greatest economic challenges we have faced in at least thirty years, it so happens that we have one of the American business community’s most renowned executives and turn-around artists running for the Presidency.  Romney is widely known for his integrity, his intelligence, and a seemingly miraculous level of competency.  But he made his name by taking tough cases, where companies or events were falling apart, or where a state was mired in red ink and partisan infighting, and accomplishing dazzling recoveries.

Americans are too accustomed to being entertained.  Romney is “stiff,” some say, “too perfect,” and gives us none of the reality-TV drama that some other candidates do.  Don’t these complaints seem awful small right now?  I am an open Romney admirer, but let me put it this way.  When someone needs to sit down with business leaders and congressional leaders and chart the way toward debt reduction, wise stewardship of the economy, and jobs growth, wouldn’t you rather have someone like Romney in there?

I think Romney is playing this right.  Rick Perry, who will declare his candidacy Saturday, is clearly courting the hard-right evangelical vote.  But his wide-open embrace of God-and-politics will make many moderate evangelicals uncomfortable; it will strike them as a manipulation of religious language and religious aspirations.  Romney was not going to win many from the New Apostolic movement anyway.  But if the economy continues to struggle, and Mitt continues to focus on central issues like job creation and private sector growth, he will be a very, very attractive candidate.

Mitt also seems to understand one important thing that Barack Obama does not.  President Obama has succumbed to the same temptation that overtakes many politicians on both sides of the aisle: the temptation to believe that their power is the most important and most necessary part of the solution.  If a problem arises, Obama wants to use the government to solve it, because he is the government.  That’s how he exercises power; that’s how he feels powerful; that’s how he believes he makes a difference.  Obama’s basic sympathies and confidence are in the government.  This happens to Republicans as well, as the legacy of the Bush administration demonstrates.

I’m not sure President Obama has ever really understood the American economy, what made (makes?) it great, and how it is capable of extraordinary growth and ingenuity all on its own.  Romney does.  I’m not speaking of an unregulated anarchic marketplace.  But Romney understands that sometimes the best thing the government can do is get out of the way.  Romney has confidence in the American business sector.  So he knows that you can remove obstacles, remove the fetters, place a few stimulants here and there, a few incentives and resources, not to solve the problems through government power but to enhance the power of the marketplace and let the American people solve their own problems through initiative, creativity and courage.

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  • I’m at work in my office, and I can hear the radio of the guys down in the warehouse. As I read this article, thinking about the state of the US economy, that radio is playing Ozzy Osbourne. “We’re going off the rails on a crazy train.”


  • I think the big problem with Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign was he couldn’t quite articulate why people should vote for him. I had read Hugh Hewitt’s “A Mormon in the White House?”, and from that book, I learned everything I needed to know about why I should vote for Mitt Romney. However, the time for a CEO as president simply hadn’t “arrived” during the primaries. Everyone was still focused on Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and foreign policy in general. That, more than all the personal attacks and tag-teaming, lead to John McCain’s nomination; and Barack Obama’s, of course.

    On the other hand, if (more) people had known that the economy was about to come crashing down around us the way it was about to, or if the Surge had been initiated much earlier, then Romney wouldn’t have had to spend so much (wasted) effort portraying himself as a hawk and could have done as he is doing now: running on his actual credentials. McCain and Mike Huckabee could have hit him as much as they wanted on his nebulous conservatism; neither could have touched him on the issue of who best to rescue the country’s economy.

    My favorite line from his ’08 campaign came during a debate. He said, “I can’t wait to get my hands on Washington’s budget.” If he’d just kept repeating that for ten months, then he may have gotten the nomination.

  • I’ve been arguing for years Obama is a neophyte who just doesn’t understand modestly complex economic issues. Outside of his race, I’ve never understood what people found so exciting about him.

    If Romney can overcome his health care reform failure, he’ll make a compelling candidate. I prefer Pawlenty, but also prefer just about anyone to Obama.

  • Larry

    Was a Romney advocate during the last election. Given the candidates to choose from it was an easy call. I am troubled by his reluctance to admit to errors in his healthcare debacle though. I’m also concerned that some of his conservative positions are superficial … that his default view tends toward government solutions. I’ve no doubt about his abilities and can-do leadership … just not sure what toolbox he’ll be reaching into when pressures mount. Perry on the other hand seems genuinely conservative (though much more has to surface). I’m not thrilled with his shoot from the hip (think Texas considers seceding)style or his “Bushy” syntax and swagger. But the next President will have to withstand pressures from within the Party and from Democrats if an authentically conservative set of solutions are to be brought to bear on our problems. Reagan was mocked as a cowboy (fade in Paula Cole … “Where have all the cowboys gone”)but determination and grit saw to it that conservative answers to pressing problems withstood the slings and arrows of Democrats AND Republicans. I’ll be very interested to listen to Perry and research his history. A side by side, apples to apples comparison will be very interesting to be sure.

    • Honest question. Does it matter if his conservative positions are superficial?

      • Larry

        Kevin, It would seem to me to matter very much. If I’m going to vote with confidence for a candidate, that is, vote having heard a true representation of their values and mission then authenticity is essential. More to the point, if their term(s)is to enjoy any predictability then it is a must.

        • That’s the intuitive answer, but I’m not sure it is that simple. A calculated position can be nuanced to win over the population moreso than raw conviction. I don’t want a president who is going to say one thing and do another, but I also don’t want a president who falls on his sword over an ideological bugaboo (like Obama did with Obamacare).

          Whether Romney is sincerely conservative or not, I believe he would appoint conservative justices, advocate paying down the debt, and end the procession of trillion-dollar federal boondoggles.

          If it pains him to do so, I don’t really care, as long as he gets the job done.

          • Larry

            Kevin, you’re tossing out false dilemmas. A principled conservative is quite capable of “nuance”. Though to be frank that word has become a sort of cloak for not simply ambiguity but misdirection. Straight talk representative of actual intentions flows naturally from those willing to honestly portray themselves to voters. “Calculated positions” are precisely the problem today. Candidate Obama was touted as the epitome of nuance and complexity, persuading the electorate that he was “post-partisan” (whatever that is)with moderate views. Right. The real Obama soon offered a clearer picture of himself and his agenda following the election. Americans are quite prepared for both an authentic and clearly articulated set of political values and a return to more conservative political sensibilities.

  • I woul dlike nothing better than to agree with you and believe that the Republican Party of today could nominate a candidate like Romney, but you need to explain how the Tea Party would stomach someone–and not go with a 3rd party candidate–who did what Romney did on health care and TARP. In other words, once again I feel you are downplaying the extent to which people really do believe the radical things they have said about health care and the size of government. I hope you are right and I am wrong, but Romney’s whole persona just seems too traditional Republican conservative for today’s Radical Tea Party motivated Republican Party.

    • Larry

      Greg, have you indexed the political philosophy, agenda and rhetoric of the Tea Party against that of candidate Reagan? Their “radical” ideas and agenda vector nicely with Reagan’s own rhetoric and ideals. This idea that the Tea Party is somehow far right was hatched somewhere far left of center. Reagan spoke forthrightly about “radical”conservatism during his candidacy. He said “One thing that must be made clear in post-Watergate is this: The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: “Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for.” That is not “ideological purity.” It is simply what built this country and kept it great.

      Let us lay to rest, once and for all, the myth of a small group of ideological purists trying to capture a majority. Replace it with the reality of a majority trying to assert its rights against the tyranny of powerful academics, fashionable left-revolutionaries, some economic illiterates who happen to hold elective office and the social engineers who dominate the dialogue and set the format in political and social affairs”

      He also said “Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax, and demand a return to traditional proportionate taxation? . . . Today in our country the tax collector’s share is 37 cents of every dollar earned. Freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp.

      Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor’s fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can’t socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he’ll eat you last.”

      Radical? Well, when compared to what passes for political orthodoxy today, then perhaps yes. But look where political orthodoxy has taken us.

      • andrew m

        Larry, Thanks for posting this. I’m inspired to look the speech up. Have a link handy?

      • John Haas

        “This idea that the Tea Party is somehow far right was hatched somewhere far left of center.”

        I have to wonder what John McCain would thionk of that?

        “The longtime public servant and one-time GOP presidential nominee was called out of touch by Tea Partiers who were shocked McCain didn’t know about United Nations “Agenda 21,” a plan that will see a world government take over the United States by wresting control of its farms.

        “First our firearms, then our farms,” one of the Tea Partiers called out . . .”

        • Larry

          Well, given the good Senators record with Conservatives I rather think he’d agree with the Lefts glib (and self-serving)assessment. Besides, cherry picking quotes from fringe elements of the Tea Party (or pro-lifers)is a ploy which simply no longer works. Like cries of racism, most have learned to ignore these ham-fisted attempts to smear opponents. That dog just won’t hunt any more.

    • sdb

      In what way do you think Romney reflects the traditional conservative wing of the republican party. I think of Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, and Buckley in this group. I’d lump Romney in with Wilson, Pataki, Dole, and Bush I in the more moderate/liberal side of the RP. This is just my impression, I haven’t a detailed analysis of their stances on various issues.

      • Larry

        sdb, I’m not suggesting that Romney is reflective of that brand of Conservatism, indeed, it is my concern that he does not. I’ll be listening closely to his remarks … to what he suggests as solutions, to what he identifies as problems. I’m especially interested in his defense of the health care initiative he championed in Mass. Simply put, I’m deeply concerned that he lacks a deeply imbedded conservative philosophy out of which he governs and formulates policy. I’d prefer to be wrong but I’ve seen little to convince me otherwise thus far. He continues to defend “Romneycare” and has endorsed the global warming aurgument … not a convincing start.

        • sdb

          Hi Larry,
          I think I must have messed up my reply again. I meant to reply to Greg Metzger above. He claimed that Romney is “too traditional conservative Republican…” That certainly isn’t how I think of Romney…not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • John Haas

    “… sometimes the best thing the government can do is get out of the way.”

    Hey, shouldn’t you at least credit Alf Landon?!

    • Larry

      Yes John, I think so … especially given the contrast, had he won his bid for the presidency, his Administration would have offered to that one which solidified and accelerated the trajectory which has brought us to this remarkable moment when the proverbial hens have come home to roost. : )

      • John Haas

        Ahh. I love the smell of Social Darwinism in the morning! But, of course, it’s night time . . .

        • Larry

          Oh dear … I’ve not stumbled upon a Eugenicist have I 😉

  • Don

    You guys still don’t get it. It’s the economy stupid. Who cares if Romney is less conservative than his opponents, who cares what he did as governor, who cares, he will fix the economy unlike any other candidate. You all worship Reagan wouldn’t you won’t to have another Republican President to point to as the reason your friends should be Republican. I would vote for Obama if he would fix the economy but he hasn’t and he won’t. Who better to fix the fiscal waste in Washington than the man who Bain Capitol employees worship. Will some defense contractors making 300k a year who really don’t do anything be fired along way, we can only hope. I know one person who hasn’t been doing his job that would be fired first when Romney becomes President and that will be the current President. Perry is great for Texas, but this is the big leagues and we can’t get it wrong.

  • Charles Cherry

    I can’t understand a true Christian (not just a nominal one) endorsing a Mormon for president of the United States of America.

    The Mormon cult is actively leading millions of people straight into the gaping jaws of Hell. By helping to put a leading Mormon into one of the the most visible, and potentially influential, positions in the World is to endorse that Satanic system.

    “For what doth it profit a nation to gain back the stock market and a robust economy and to influence millions of souls toward eternal damnation?”

    • Would it be better to re-elect Barack Obama?

    • sdb

      Somehow we survived a Diest, Unitarian, Papist, and Quaker (if memory serves). Exactly how orthodox must our president be? I’m pretty sure we are voting for a chief executive and not a pastor in chief.

    • I agree with sdb. If Mormons acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, others of His followers should welcome them. Romney’s economic principles are more to the point.