Poor Mitt Romney. In one of the rare displays of bipartisanship in recent years, Republicans as well as Democrats have criticized him for the content and timing of his initial responses to rioting in Libya and Egypt. The criticism has also conveyed a loss of respect for Romney. But, later realizing that he is, after all, their party’s presidential candidate, some Republicans have modified or muted their criticism to align with the party line of Reince Preibus, National Republican Committee chairman, that Obama was supporting the rioters. To this smarmy insinuation that the president is a traitor Romney gives his tacit consent.
Meanwhile, Romney’s responses have prompted campaign reporters and political commentators across most of the political spectrum to add two words to their accounts or appraisals of Romney and his campaign: ambition and desperation, respectively. They are appropriate because, in response to this criticism, he has repeated his message criticizing Obama during a foreign crisis as if to show his firm convictions and strong leadership. I share with most critics the view that Romney, far from showing himself admirably resolute, has shown himself unpatriotically opportunistic. (So it is hardly surprising that he repeats lies, among others, about Obama’s Medicare savings allocated to health care benefits for seniors and work-increasing waivers requested by Republican governors in Nevada and Utah.) I also think his responses indicate, not many strengths, but multi-dimensional weaknesses: personal, professional, and political. I think that the movement of the most recent polls shows many people making up their minds that Romney is neither qualified nor suited for the presidency.
Perhaps Americans are realizing that Romney suffers in comparison with Republican presidential candidates running for the first time after World War II: Eisenhower, Nixon, Goldwater, Ford, Reagan, Bush (father), Bush (son), and McCain. Some had education at fine schools and colleges. Some had business experience, but none except Bush (son) regarded or paraded it as a qualification for office. All except Bush (son) had significant, long-term experience in the military or government and thus some expertise on an array of domestic and foreign issues. All except Bush (son) were raised or educated for public service, not for public office as a family legacy.
Romney compares unfavorably with all but Bush (son), with whom he shares a similarity of background and character: a privileged upbringing, the advantages of family wealth and connections, a circumscribed social life, and a notable lack of curiosity and knowledge about the world. The comparison with Bush (son) reminds us how good Bush was for the economy, even with the head start of a budget surplus, and for foreign and military affairs, before 9/11 and with Iraq.
Romney has no experience which even he believes qualifies him for the presidency. He seldom refers to the experience of, or lessons learned from, his 3-year gig as the chair of the 2002 Winter Olympics. His success owes more to the federal government and others than he acknowledges. He seldom refers to the experience of, or lessons learned from, his 4-year term as governor of Massachusetts. He did not create many jobs; he did not raise taxes, but he did raise fees (what is the difference, really?); and he initiated state health care coverage for all, but refuses to take credit for this model for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. So his record is a mixed one. More, he asserted other positions in campaigning for or after achieving the governorship which he has recently repudiated or contradicted in campaigning for the presidency.
Romney no longer refers to the experience of, and never identified the lessons learned from, his long employment at Bain Capital, which was the basis of his original claim to be the best Republican candidate to oppose President Obama. In the GOP primaries, he claimed that his success in business, especially in creating jobs, qualified him to address the problems of the economy. None of his primary opponents asked Romney how microeconomic business experience prepared him for macroeconomic issues involved in national and international economics. None of them questioned his claims to have created thousands and thousands of jobs; none of them asked whether the figure was a net figure and whether the net figure represented jobs created in the United States. After the Obama campaign challenged Romney on the number of net jobs created in this country, he has remained silent on his business experience ever since.
So the details of Romney’s experience do him no credit. Those that are known have done him no good; those that are unknown would, by his own admission, do him harm. He refuses to reveal his taxes for the same number of years which his father said was appropriate and half the number of years which he provided to John McCain. Their reason is that, as his wife and he allege—notice their easy shift of responsibility from themselves to others—that Democrats would find fault with the returns (they thus admit that the list of unsavory possibilities is very long). But a candidate with nothing to hide would reveal them in the confidence that he could defend them against his political opponents, discredit them in the process, and earn the public’s confidence.
Romney’s secrecy about his personal finances extends to secrecy about his political positions. Not only has Romney reversed positions on many issues—health care, climate change, energy, environment, campaign financing, gun control, abortion, contraception, and a host of others—or retracted one day’s statement with the next day’s, but he also offers positions vague or internally inconsistent. His failure to discuss the details of his views on these and other domestic issues are worrisome; we have no idea what he would do or urge Congress to do if he were elected president. Worse, we cannot be sure that he himself knows what his positions are; indeed, we cannot be sure that he has any.
We still remember Romney’s experience in business, if not economics, and his claim that it gives him the know-how to grow the country out of the recession. So we expect him to offer more than vague assurances that he has a plan, the details which he refuses to state, to cut taxes, create jobs, and thereby restore the economy. That plan should reconcile his claim that he can cut personal income taxes by 20 percent, cut corporate income taxes 10 percent, and achieve budget neutrality by closing loopholes on the upper class. But he refuses to specify which loopholes because he knows three things: one, specifying them now would anger their constituencies and lose their votes; two, closing loopholes for the upper class would not make a dent in offsetting his $4 trillion reduction in revenues; and, three, the only loopholes which, if closed, could make the tax cuts budget neutral would be loopholes affecting the middle class—deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and state and local taxes. If elected, he will claim that his mantras—cut taxes, cut government, cut regulations—were mandates to do what he pleases, what his advisors urge, or what the Tea Party dictates, regardless of their effects on most Americans.
We might expect a candidate with no foreign policy background and no military experience to remedy his deficiencies in these important areas. His religious missionary work in France, which earned him multiple deferments from serving in the military during the Vietnam War, which he otherwise supported by encouraging others to do the fighting, might have given him the opportunity to book up on the relevant subjects—but no. Much later, from the time when he entered politics, Romney has had the time, but not taken the trouble, to study the fundamentals of national security and specifically defense issues small and large, and to develop and evaluate his ideas on these matter. On the contrary, he has made suggestions without any sense of strategy or reality. He has suggested that he would greatly increase the defense budget, which is many times larger than that of any conceivable military rival, without explaining what purposes would be served (senior military officers want much less than he wants). He has proposed a troop increase of 100,000 troops; when asked in what capacity these troops would serve, his answer was staffing additional aircraft carriers, without realizing that it would take 16 carriers, more than doubling the current number, to accommodate that many troops.
As this instance suggests, Romney thinks of modern warfare in terms of conventional war-fighting scenarios typical of the Second World War and the Cold War. In criticizing Obama for not supporting the country’s ability to fight two major wars simultaneously, he criticizes the president without having a factual basis for doing so. For he is ignorant of a DoD strategic decision made years ago to fight only one major war and multiple small-scale wars (what size are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? or the war against terrorists in many countries?). Unsettling is that his two-major-war scenario suggests that Romney foresees a need to fight two such wars. Since he thinks that Russia is America’s main rival and Iran a developing nuclear power, he may intend to go to war with one or two of them. Perhaps, he imagines a pre-emptive attack on Iran and a responsive war against Russia if it comes to Iran’s aid.
Romney’s lack of preparation has shown itself in his response to recent events; they have exposed not only his inexperience in foreign affairs, but also his insensitivity to the basics, not to mention the nuances, of diplomacy. I concede, however, that his knowledge of foreign affairs likely extends to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. As he lacks empathy for people, so he lacks perceptiveness of other governments or their people. Under no pressure except publicity, he committed multiple faux pas in England, Israel, and Poland. Worse, in response to disturbances in Libya and Egypt, he made remarks unhelpful to American interests to score political points with Republicans who have called for him to be “aggressive” as his campaign loses ground to the president’s. In plunging into a fluid, complex situation, he showed servility to the opinion of others, desperation in his lack of restraint, disregard for the facts, and ignorance of the multiple contexts of the situations in two different countries—not the characteristics of a leader steady under pressure who can be trusted with his finger on the button.
Romney’s lack of core convictions, solid positions, fundamental information, and self-knowledge about himself and his needs, and his lack of empathy for or understanding of others, reflects an emptiness, a weakness, an ignorance, and an arrogance which makes him a dangerous possibility for the presidency. His ambition for this office, unlike that of other Republican presidential candidates, is devoid of a sense of public service and the knowledge and skills to shape his administration, guide Congress, much less lead the American people. With his narrow focus, unfounded criticisms, and nasty slurs directed at Obama, Romney, in addition to all his other deficiencies, shows himself most deficient in his lack of vision. And where there is no vision, the people perish.