Thursday, January 26, 2012


Who better to provide us with some clarity on the Republic primary contests than a satirical publication like The Onion. It offers this:

From coast to coast, town to town, and in nearly every public meeting place and private residence across America, millions have been captivated, inspired, and in some cases moved to tears by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who now finds himself campaigning before a nation in the throes of full-scale Romneymania.

"The raw energy and enthusiasm Mitt Romney stirs inside people is like nothing I've ever seen," Youngstown, OH auto mechanic Chris Ritenour said Wednesday. "Everything he says resonates with Americans. His moving story of growing up privileged, his inspiring rise from moderate wealth to overwhelming riches, his thrilling work in the highest echelons of corporate finance—he really speaks to the heart and mind of the common man."

No one says it better than The Onion. Today, Romney’s candidacy is ascending again. InTrade has him a prohibitive favorite. And yet, no one really feels anything for him.

If you are looking for emotion today, you will only find it in the Republican politicians and pundits who are passionately opposed to Newt Gingrich. Politico reports on it here.

Republicans who are passionately opposed to Gingrich seem to have missed Norm Coleman’s telling remarks.

When you allow yourself to be consumed by a negative passion you are not very likely to be thinking very clearly or very well.

Former senator Norm Coleman advises the Romney campaign. He has pointed out that a president Romney will not really be able to repeal all of Obamacare.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

The larger point is that the path of least political resistance for the GOP would be to revert to its historic minority role as tax collectors for the welfare state, and this temptation is especially strong for health care. No one doubts that repealing and replacing ObamaCare will be a hard slog if the party does take the White House and Senate in 2012, namely because the American political system is designed to make change hard (even if those controls failed in 2010 amid Democratic abuses). Mr. Coleman's advice is, essentially, why bother trying.

The counselors of despair who want to sign a health-care armistice before the battle lines are even drawn are the sort of people who make the public cynical about politics. The entire GOP establishment claims in public it wants to scotch ObamaCare before the program is entrenched in 2014, because that is what the voters want. But if Mr. Coleman is any indication, some GOP elites will dump this political slogan when a faculty member shows up to vouchsafe her new respect for their moderation and realism.

Is this what it means to run a campaign without emotion, without passion, and without any real feeling? Do people feel disconnected from Romney because they know, in their gut, that a man who has no emotion can only be trusted to maintain the status quo?

Naturally, the Romney campaign has disavowed Coleman’s remarks. But since the campaign and the candidate are nothing but disciplined, what are the odds that Coleman just let it slip.

The Journal tells us what the true test should be:

But if his real ObamaCare convictions are akin to Mr. Coleman's—if Republicans ought to "repeal the bad and keep the good," as Mr. Romney once put it in 2010—then voters should know that now, before he becomes the nominee. If those aren't his convictions, then Mr. Coleman shouldn't be anywhere near his campaign.

Does anyone really believe that that will happen?

Yesterday, Harvard Professor and Hoover Institution fellow Niall Ferguson presented an analysis of the Romney candidacy that closely resembles the one offered by The Onion:

A large part of the appeal of Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate is that he is the quintessential American Technocrat. His educational résumé couldn’t do more to convey managerial competence: the guy has degrees from both Harvard Law and Harvard Business schools. He has ticked every box the United States has to offer a compulsive doer, going forward with laserlike focus on win-win execution (this is how technocrats talk). He has built from scratch a successful private-equity business, Bain Capital. He has turned around a major public event, the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. He has been a state governor. I live in Massachusetts; not even his political opponents question Romney’s aptitude. And despite some recent bad press and months of attacks by his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign is running as smoothly as a McKinsey flow chart crossed with a BMW engine.

To the kind of people who spend their careers inside elite institutions, the technocratic turn is welcome. Decisions about economic policy, they reason, are too difficult to be entrusted to the people’s elected representatives. And if it makes sense to entrust monetary policy to unelected experts at central banks, then why not do something similar for fiscal policy? After all, voters will never back the kind of tough measures that need to be taken to stabilize Western budgets. They want jam today, paid for in 30 years at the earliest. Hence our chronic deficits.

If you trust the experts but not the people, Romney is your guy. If you want a manager, Romney is your guy.

But, if you want someone who knows Washington well enough to effect real change, then Romney will come up short.

Ironically, when Romney charges that Gingrich is a Washington insider he is obfuscating his own lack of experience in the federal government.

Ferguson continues his column by making a point that Newt Gingrich has made: Mitt Romney is a manager and not a leader. He is not judging the candidates as stand-alone figures. He is evaluating them in terms of what a new president will need to do to lead the nation.

Ferguson writes:

The sacrifices we need to make are bound to be painful: just look what Greece and Italy are going through now. Yet people can tolerate job losses, spending cuts, and tax hikes if they believe that a payoff will come in the foreseeable future. How to persuade them of that? The only way is through political leadership. And that means inspirational speeches and fireside chats.

Technocrats suck at these.

Ask yourself: what is Mitt Romney’s biggest weakness as a candidate (apart from his being a multimillionaire who pays an “effective” tax rate of 15 percent)? The answer is that he has all the rhetorical flair of a PowerPoint presentation. Despite years of practice and doubtless the best team of public-speaking coaches on the planet, he simply can’t stand in front of a lectern without turning into an immaculate wooden carving of himself emitting strange prerecorded messages from a human impersonator on Planet Vulcan. And if he’s bad with a script, he’s even worse off the cuff.

It isn’t easy to grasp what is involved in political leadership, but Ferguson explains it clearly and cogently. In one way or another everyone who has been analyzing the Romney candidacy has been saying exactly the same thing.

If you believe that the nation will need a leader who can rally the nation behind a program of fiscal austerity, then, Romney does not seem to be the best candidate.

Why then is everyone so troubled over Mitt Romney’s lack of emotion?

From a moral perspective the absence of emotion is always suspect.  Often, on this blog, I have voiced my opposition to therapists who declare that it is good to express all of one’s feelings, to let it all hang out and to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Thereby I join those moral thinkers who value self-control and discipline over emotional intemperance.

This does not mean that I, or Aristotle, with whom this argument originated, am against all expressions of emotion. While it is not a good idea to go around being angry all the time, it is also not a good idea not to feel anger when the occasion merits it.

As the philosopher put it, your goal should be to express the right emotion at the right time in the right place to the right person under the right circumstances.

If you are angry all the time your anger will only reflect on you. If you are never angry you will be acting servile and overly compliant. If do not feel anger when you should you will be showing that you do not really get it. An appropriate emotion demonstrates that you are in touch with reality.

Yesterday James Taranto suggested that the Republican Party is facing a choice between a candidate who is too angry and a candidate who is not angry enough.

He wrote: “Republicans, on the other hand, have to choose between the scrappy Gingrich and the more complaisant Mitt Romney. The contrast between the two is most evident in their descriptions of the president, whom Gingrich calls a dangerous radical and Romney describes as a nice guy in over his head. To our mind, Obama is neither as dangerous as Gingrich suggests nor as nice as Romney says. But the important thing about these statements is what they tell us about the men making them and the character of the campaign each is likely to run.

Obama has long had very poor approval ratings among independent voters, which ought to make him easy to defeat. Obama's angry appeal is not going to win over unhappy independents. The great imponderable is whether Gingrich's anger would put them off and thereby neutralize Obama's--or, to put it another way, whether independent voters are fed up enough with Obama to respond to Gingrich's angry appeal the way Republicans do.

Of course, there’s more to the electorate than independent voters.

Will Republican voters find it in their hearts to back a Romney candidacy that feels wan and dispirited? Will they rally to a campaign whose attacks seem mostly directed against Republicans?

Or, would they turn out in greater numbers for a Gingrich who expresses their anger at Obama and their rage against Obama’s media enablers?

Yesterday, for example, Mitt Romney criticized Gingrich for attacking the media. Isn’t it strange that the presumptive Republican nominee is defending a media establishment that will do everything in its power to re-elect Barack Obama?

It wasn’t very long ago that South Carolina Republicans voted for Gingrich because he has been willing to stand up to the media and to call them out for their unabashed support for Obama. How quickly people forget.

While Gingrich has been attacking Obama and his media enablers, Romney and the Republican establishment have been training their guns on Newt Gingrich.

One assumes that eventually they will train their guns on Obama. But, if there is no passion for the Romney candidacy, and if the candidate himself does not evince any passion, where will the anger come from? Will the Republican base become dispirited?

Will a man without anger be able to channel anger? One doubts it.

For now those who are lining up to support Romney are more anti-Gingrich than pro-Romney. If their main reason for supporting Romney is that he is neither Gingrich nor Obama, he would, were he elected, have no real governing mandate.

Perhaps Norm Coleman was right. Elect Romney and Obamacare is here to stay.

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