Dreams from My Mother: Mitt Romney and the Politics of Reluctance

This would be a step up from the Republicans who call Mr. Obama a liar, a socialist, an illegal alien—and if reciprocated by the President's campaign, could lead to a kinder, gentler, more Christian election.

The other outgrowth of Mrs. Romney's crushing defeat, however, is not so positive. All those who have taken Mr. Romney to task for his willingness to adapt his positions to suit the people in the room have noted a quality that seems to grow from Family of Origin issues. From both his parents' failures, Mr. Gellman writes, the big lesson was "fear of error." Don't say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people.

It's made some who knew both the parents and Mr. Romney mourn, and what

the first-generation cohort is mourning [is] the sharp rightward turn of the Republican Party, which would not find room today for Lenore or George. But it is not so much the GOP platform that disturbs them as its leader's mutability—the much debated adjustments on abortion, stem-cell research, the assault-weapons ban, climate change, gay civil unions and state-sponsored health care. Their main concern is not that he tells voters what they want to hear but that he backs away so readily from what they do not.

Fear of losing—or of saying the wrong thing—would be a logical lesson for Mr. Romney to learn from the past, and could account for his reversals on policy, or for his unwillingness to defend some of the success stories of his governorship of Massachusetts and his attempt to run purely as a businessman.

But it is a harmful lesson, both for him, and for us as voters.

We do not need to hear simply what we want to hear, whether we are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama both have committed the cardinal political sin of being afraid to tell the whole truth about what they believe and what they want to do for fear of offending, and this week's TIME article explains Mr. Romney's reluctance to challenge his party's base on divisive issues at the same time as it calls that reluctance into moral question.

Augustine wrote in Book Two of On Christian Doctrine that the truly moral person "will not be deflected from the truth either by an eagerness to please men or by the thought of avoiding any of the troubles that assail him in this life. Such a son ascends to wisdom."

One goal of pastoral care, as in psychoanalysis, is that people might see why they do the things they do, and so offer them the chance to change for the better. Perhaps this week's article will bring his tendencies to Mr. Romney's attention and give him a wake-up call. While we would all appreciate a kinder, gentler presidential campaign, I think; even more, we would value a campaign in which each candidate told us the truth—even the painful truth—and offered us a vision of an America that is kinder, gentler, and possible.

5/30/2012 4:00:00 AM