One of the purposes of the Republican convention was to give us some insight into the good, faithful, and hard working Mitt Romney. The stories about Romney as a Mormon religious official caring for his fellows were genuinely moving. Romney’s business experience and his experience in the Olympics are genuinely impressive. He seems to have lived an inner-directed life that balanced family, business and faith. We can see some of this inner-directed Romney in how he runs his campaign. He built a fully staffed and well funded campaign organization. Most of his Republican rivals didn’t. He learned to be conversant on most national issues. Many of his Republican rivals didn’t. Other than Ron Paul (whose appeal was too limited to seriously challenge Romney for the nomination), none of Romney’s Republican opponents were able to do all of those things.
The problem is that while Romney seems to have lived mostly an inner-directed life, he has decided to run as a other-directed candidate. He has chosen to run as a panderer rather than a convincer. Maybe it is because he has no strong opinions on the kinds of issues that divide us right now. He has changed his mind on some issues, but always in the direction of whatever constituency he was wooing at the moment. Maybe he decided that campaigns aren’t the place for whatever principle he might have. Either way, Romney looks to have chosen his (shifting) positions primarily as a vehicle for personal advancement.
But this choice looks to be a less-than-perfect fit. Romney works hard, but he seems more like an imitation of an other-directed person rather than the real thing. I mean that as a complement. Look at Bill Clinton. Now there is an outher-directed guy (among other things – some good.) At the Democratic convention, Clinton was trying to win over an audience. So he made his speech about the audience. It was a speech about how Democratic governance (including Clinton of course) had been good for people in the past and why they should stick with it. It was also about why Republican governance was so bad, that even bad stuff that happens during Democratic presidencies is the fault of the other party. He made the audience like him because he put himself on their side and at their service. Clinton understood that to get what he wanted (to get the audience to like him – and Obama), he had to give his audience what they wanted. In making it about the audience, Clinton made the case for himself.
Romney’s convention speech was comparatively clumsy. Romney made it about Romney. How his parents loved each other. How he misses his kids. Please like me. But persuadable viewers would probably like him more if he focused more on how his proposed policies would make their lives better. He needed to make it about his audience. The personal stuff could still be there, but it needed a clear link to public life. Politicians have been able to do this in the (recent) past.
Romney’s comments on pre-existing conditions are similarly clumsy. Romney’s entire rhetorical approach is problematic. In front of conservative audiences, Romney focuses almost exclusively on repealing Obamacare. In his Meet the Press interview, Romney was asked about guaranteed issue – which is a popular part of Obamacare. But Romney hadn’t invested in explaining how his proposed policies would deal with those with pre-existing conditions, and Romney’s reference to Romneycare pointed in the direction of Obamacare. The problem was that Romney hadn’t come up with an explanation that could be articulated to both conservative and persuadable audiences.
This is bad pandering. But maybe this is because Romney isn’t a natural panderer. Maybe that is part of the reason for the personal anecdotes in his speech, and why they were so disconnected from politics. Maybe talking about his family was a chance to stop being the pro-choice Romney, or the pro-life Romney, or the pro-mandate Romney, or the anti-mandate Romney. Maybe it was a glimpse of the real Romney, and maybe the only glimpse we’re gonna get.
PS: Yeah, I know it is sort of psychobabble, but it is what I see and these words are the only words I have.