Sunday, November 13, 2011

Romney and Conservatives

I had a long conversation yesterday with one of the smartest guys I know.  He's a committed conservative, and he's just not that into Mitt Romney.  The purpose of our call was for each of us to proselytize the other to his view (me, get him onboard with Mitt.  Him, get me offboard with Mitt).  Neither of us succeeded.  But the quality of the conversation and the thinking behind the two viewpoints led me to a "theory of the case"; that is, a sort of "Grand Unifying Theory" as to why I am where I am and why so many other conservatives are where they are.

First though, I will assert to you that I am more ideologically conservative than  the candidate I am supporting, though as I continue to read and watch Romney espouse his views, I find that he's more conservative than I thought six months ago. 

The very basic question here is how to fix America.  Both I and my interlocutor believe the country is in bad shape and that there is a lot of work to do to make it better.  Neither of us believe that the present administration can get it done, and both of us believe that the ideology of the present administration is at least partly responsible for the acceleration of our woes the past two years.  Both of us believe that the country (and the populace) has moved slowly but steadily leftward over the past 80 years, with only halting steps back to the middle here and there to arrest the drift (see R. Reagan).  Both of us believe that this drift must be reversed, and that it will ultimately serve as the catalyst for America's irreversible decline if not checked--and soon.  Where he and I differ is on how to make this happen--and this, I suggest, is at the heart of much of the Romney lukewarmity I see.

My friend believes we are already past the point of no return, that the other side is irredeemably corrupt and that no amount of compromise is going to fix things.  In fact, he argues that compromise is what put us in the pickle we're in, that we have compromised first principles granted us by the Founders, and that the only way to make things right is to hold steady to principles and elect a no-nonsense conservative as President.  He suggests that without such an adherence to principle, we'll lose not only the Presidency, but our lead in the House and any chance of taking the Senate.  His view of Romney is that he is insufficiently conservative and certainly insufficiently differentiated from the neo-socialism of the current administration.  These flaws suggest that he will be incapable of exerting the leadership necessary to move the country forward, that he'll deliver more of the same, making deals that maybe slow the "Road to Serfdom", but which do not ultimately create a U-turn in that road. He believes that Romney's steady but unspectacular numbers in the primaries are a reflection of the views of party faithful that we need a clean sweep, that we need to take on liberal neo-socialism head on, that we simply can't trust liberals and that compromise must end.  Put simply, a Romney Administration might slow the decline, but it will not turn it around.

I on the other hand, believe that a retreat to ideological purity will hand the liberals the victory they have been steadily moving toward, as no matter how skippy-jiffy I and my friend might consider conservative ideas to be, they simply aren't broadly adhered to enough in THIS VOTING population to serve as anything of a rallying point.  Let's face it gang--we are in the pickle we're in because many of these programs we all know to be cancers....are really, really popular with some elements of the voting population.  Voters are far too conflicted to be counted on in any way to come running to the conservative cause because we've got a great conservative candidate who can spell-bind you with his rhetoric--a la Newt--or inspire you with the simplicity of his solutions to hard problems--a la Herman.  Witness the COUNTLESS signs at Tea Party rallies two years ago saying "Hands of My Medicare".  Oh yes, we all cheered on granny as she poked Obamacare's threats to the program, some of us without ever really considering just how inconsistent with conservative principles Medicare is (while wildly popular with those who receive it). 

I believe the nomination of an ideological conservative at this point will lead to continuing gridlock and the certainty of our nation's continuing diminishment.  Not because what such a candidate would assert isn't right, or isn't what I believe--but because we can't sell it--at least not yet--to the George Bush voters who abandoned the Party for Barack Obama in 2008.  I see this as a math problem, and while we are all in love with conservative ideas and principles--a majority of Americans WILL NOT APPLY THAT LABEL to themselves.  We MUST target the muddled middle, voters who aren't ideological and who aren't political--but who recognize on some meaningful level that things are not right, that Barack Obama's path has made it worse--but--and this is a huge but--are NOT prepared to hear the inescapable truth that THEY are the problem.  That their cozy acceptance of easy mortgages backed by Uncle Sugar, student loans PROVIDED by Uncle Sugar, "save me from being underwater" restructuring deals pushed by Uncle Sugar and a whole host of other entitlements are what PUT US IN THIS POSITION, and that the only way out of this mess is to dramatically cut back on government spending.  At the heart of an ideologically conservative approach to these voters is the proposition that we have to "educate" them, that we have to convince them of the error of their ways and their own selfishness.  As wonderful as this notion is, and as fun a job as it would be--I simply cannot accept it as an electoral strategy.  I don't think you get elected President in this country by telling voters how screwed up they are.  I realize that this is a parody of an honorable approach--but it is EXACTLY how it will be portrayed by opponents. 

I support Mitt Romney for a lot of reasons--but mainly because I believe him to be a man of action animated by principle.  I support Mitt Romney because I believe that any notion that we are going to get ourselves out of this mess by creating some kind of modern day political Plymouth Colony is absurd, that any solution to where we are headed will necessarily involve some level of compromise.  The policies we seek to impact are simply TOO POPULAR for frontal assault, that the victory will be won,  one policy alteration at a time tilting the scale back in the direction of personal responsibility, limited government and free markets.

My friend and I agree completely on what the problem is, and that Mr. Obama isn't going to solve it.  I think his approach enshrines our diminishment by abandoning the playing field, and he believes my approach enshrines our diminishment by colluding with the forces that caused it.  I suspect that somewhere in between is a solution--and maybe the primary process is that solution.

Maybe the fact that conservative standard-bearers are grabbing headlines and making runs at Mitt will make him a better, more conservative candidate.  Maybe the fire nipping at his toes from Gingrich, Perry, Paul, Bachman et al will drive him to policy decisions more in line with the views of their supporters.  Maybe, in the end, Romney will be viewed as conservative enough to get the job done, and after a hard-fought primary season, the party will coalesce and he'll have the coalition he needs on our side to unseat the President.  This is my hope.  I don't think the process works with any other candidate.  I know I'll get some detractors on this one, and I accept your views.  I just think they are wrong.  But let's have some primaries, let's continue to let the process play out, and in the end, I'm damn sure I'll vote for the guy or gal with the (R) next to their name in November 2012. 


"The Hammer" said...

Sounds like you have a smart friend, and you're real dumb. A lot of us have been making the very same points for months and they didn't seem to get through.

But let me say this about that. We don't need a good administrator (you can hire one of those). We don't need a guy who can manage the welfare state better than the one's who imposed the welfare state. We need a guy who has the guts and the convictions to dismantle the welfare state.

Now, he's got a lot of ammunition to work with. He can point to Europe, he can point to our absurd situation, he can point to Obama's crony capitalism, he can point to all kinds of stuff and screams from the treetops "WE'VE HAD ENOUGH, AND WE AIN'T TAKING THIS SHIT ANYMORE!"

But Romney isn't doing that. He's playing it safe. He's trying to be the default candidate, everybody's second choice, the last man standing. The bottom line is, he's a pussy. In sport, in military confrontations, in life; if you play not to lose you'll lose. Right now we need George Patton, not Omar Bradley.

Anonymous said...

To me the crux of the issue as to why Romney is not acceptable is the imagined first presidential debate where BHO's opening comment is "I want to thank Mitt for giving me the model for health care reform based on what he put in place in Massachusetts." Romney cannot and will not differentiate himself on that single issue, and that issue will sink his candidacy. If we need to repeal 'Obamacare' we cannot do it with Romney as president. And the lack of differentiation will make it impossible for seeing Romney as a legitimate alternative.

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