Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Best Pro-Romney Argument
Isn't Good Enough

There's an argument in favor of a Romney vote that almost works and a year or so ago I would have been sorely tempted to buy it.  But it falls apart in the end and I want to specify why.

The argument goes like this:  Good or ill, fair or foul, Obama will run his forehead headlong into the brick wall of Congressional Republican opposition.  His accomplishments will be trifles won at great cost.  Meanwhile Romney is a dealmaker; also a squishy centrist, and he'll get things done.

There are a couple of reasons why this argument looks less plausible today than it did a year ago.  One, it took me a while to realize just how determined Congressional Republicans are to see Obama fail.  There can't be any doubt that this has been true in the current election cycle and I don't see any obvious reason why they will break their settled habit just because he happens to get re-elected.  David Gergen's "we get only one President at a time" (of Bill Clinton) is about as distant as the Cumaean Sybil.

Two, I guess it took me a while to grasp just what a total tool Mitt Romney really is.  Other presidents whom I haven't liked--W, in particular--or that I didn't like all that much--HW, or Ronald Reagan--seemed to me, in their own way, to accept the premise that they were President of All the People and had to take the welfare of the nation to heart.  Grant that they may have strange ways of showing it, still I think they kind of believed it.  So also, FWIW, John McCain and Bob Dole. 

With Romney--man, the more I see of him, the less I like him.  It's increasingly clear that he simply can't think of any reason to be President except to cut his own taxes.  He doesn't seem even to give a good pretense at any other agenda: he really doesn't get the point.

I'll still have to concede that he's a kind of dealmaker--what got him to Romneycare in Mass, for instance.  But there's the catch.  In Mass, he had to deal with the likes of Teddy Kennedy.   In Congress, one way or another he'd be dealing with the mullahs.  He'd be making deals all right, and it wouldn't be pretty to see.

 I suspect that when people pine for a deal-making centrist, they may be thinking--maybe Obama himself is thinking--of my old buddy Eisenhower.  True, Eisenhower spent six years with a Democratic Congress and got along pretty well: he and Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn used to dine together.  But here's the thing: Ike didn't really get along with Republicans all that well.

It's not that Ike was anybody's idea of a liberal.  Temperamentally, I'd say he was a deeply conservative guy.   He felt completely at home in the company of the rich Babbits who showered him with golf club memberships and other indicia of good living.  As I've argued before, I don't think he ever really understood what the civil rights revolution was all about: he couldn't understand why blacks wouldn't just shut up and settle.  He had absolutely no interest in helping small farmers.

But--well, two things.  One, he accepted the New Deal as a Done Deal.  Might not have been idea but he saw no percentage in refighting the old battle.  And two--more important, Ike was an internationalist. The fulcrum of the Republican party was isolationism.    No wonder he wanted to wriggle away from the howling of the one-nation yahoos.

In this perspective, I think the point explains itself. There is simply no basis on which to expect, from Romney, the kind of prudential centrism that we got from Ike.  Of course there isn't any basis on which to expect it from Obama either, but he may fight harder to keep the past from being so completely dismantled.

A final point: a hasty reading might put me in the camp of those who are "disappointed" with Obama. That's sort of true, but only within limits. Chris Hayes and others argue that Obama is disappointing because he has tried to govern with the old elites, instead of coming through with the hopey-changey stuff he seemed to promise.  I never quite took that view.  I certainly agree that the elites have not distinguished themselves, but to turn the keys over to a bunch of amateurs always struck me as a prospect much more alarming.  What I hoped for--but in truth, never really expected--was that perhaps Obama could do the old politics in a (somewhat) effective way.

Everything we know now compels the conclusion that he was a total rookie through most of his first term, however well intentioned.   Our best hope--pious, but tentative--might be that he is a bit less of a total rookie today, that he may be able to summon up some of the savvay and guile that seemed so lacking before.  It may not be fun for us, but in fairness, it's likely to be even less fun for him.  Indeed at this point, the most incomprehensible part is why he wants the job.  

[Obama, I mean. Why Romney wants it is more clear.]

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