The mid-July rumor that Mitt Romney might pick former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as his running-mate was a fun Matt Drudge scoop for those few in the country who live off political-campaign gossip during Acela rides between Boston and New York or Philly and D.C. It was a treat for junkies looking for a pre-convention news high, coming so soon after Ann Romney’s offering that her husband might be considering a woman to fill the slot.
A woman is a good idea. Or a Marco Rubio. A Bobby Jindal. That’s the unsolicited advice one political veteran offered while discussing Mitt Romney’s potential vice-presidential pick. Most important, he said, “You’ve got to go to the future.” Oddly, that’s what the Condi rumors reflected, despite the fact that she had served in George W. Bush’s cabinet.
But the insistence that Governor Romney is a deficient candidate who needs to make up for a lack of “sex appeal” or “a vision thing” misses a central point about him: He’s got a record of being all about winning the future, to borrow a phrase. And if his recent speech to the NAACP is any indication, he’s intent on making sure America knows.
There is the business success, his turnaround of the scandal-crippled 2002 Winter Olympics, or his time as governor of Massachusetts. Or you can talk to a cab driver from Nigeria, who has been a U.S. citizen for 16 years. Having admired Reagan, he has always voted Republican, but he has had misgivings about Romney and the whole “Repeal Obamacare!” business.
“You’re just going to tear it down and walk away?” he asks. On his cab radio, he heard about the “repeal” but nothing else. He was a bit perplexed, given that Romney seems to know a thing or two about health care and has more experience than the average pol in trying to help get it working better (something that, oddly, tends to be brought up by his detractors more than by his advocates).
And then Mitt Romney spoke to the NAACP. “For the first time since coming here, I heard what I’ve been waiting to hear from a presidential candidate,” my taxi driver told me as he braved D.C. traffic to get me from one meeting to the next.
All the worst seniors-will-lose-out scare tactics of the Left had been getting to this taxi driver and his wife of 40 years. But after Romney was booed (the most reported fact about the event, of course) at the NAACP convention for refusing to pander and instead saying that he would repeal Obamacare — which is what he regularly says to more receptive audiences — he went off script and started talking about what exactly the day after repeal looks like. For my cabbie, it was a game changer. For Romney, too: He was speaking to the nation in a way he previously hadn’t — suggesting a leader taking his case to the country because the flourishing of individual lives and the life of the nation depend on it.
“If our priority is jobs,” Romney said — emphasizing that it is “my priority” — “that’s something I’d change, and I’d replace it with something that provides people with something they need in health care, which is lower cost, good quality, capacity to deal with people who have preexisting conditions, and I’ll put that in place, and I’ll also work to reform and save Medicare and Social Security.”
That ad lib occasioned a cab-ride discussion about the high costs and hostility to conscience, the problems of competency and sustainability, that are inherent in a centralized plan as opposed to state reform efforts. “This is what people need to hear more about,” the concerned cabbie said. “People are scared. They just need to understand the thinking, beyond ‘Take it away.’” And so they did if they heard the NAACP speech.
Romney also issued a challenge to embrace school choice as a civil-rights issue. One of President Obama’s more indefensible positions is reflected in his stubborn refusal to be an advocate for some of the poorest children in Washington, D.C., who are plagued by dismal, dangerous schools. Talking about the intolerable inequality that persists in educational opportunity, Romney quoted Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That’s a statement for our times, soul-reviving for our country and our culture.
It was one of several quality borrowed lines Romney offered. “Every good cause on this earth,” Romney said, “relies in the end on a plan bigger than ours. ‘Without dependence on God,’ as Dr. King said, ‘our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night.’ Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G. K. Chesterton called ‘cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.’” This is a crucial part of the conservative proposition this November that Romney represents: that government is not our sole or even our primary hope, and it’s not our primary agent of transformational change.
His name may not be Marco, and he may have a Fifties-model button-down style, but he may just get to work on rebuilding something we’ve been undervaluing of late: freedom. Freedom to believe as we choose, even outside our places of worship. To have the dream of upward mobility. To have dreams again, period. At a time when our government is insisting that women’s fertility is a disease, that parents and individuals simply do not know best what they and their families need, invention and creativity and American exceptionalism all seem on the verge of becoming past tense.
When Mitt Romney was governor, he adamantly resisted efforts to fund human-cloning research. It wasn’t even good science, in addition to being an affront to human dignity. While detractors accuse him of being a front man for an imaginary “war on women,” he is actually the candidate who has a full-spectrum understanding of the human and civil-rights challenges that are strangling the soul of America.
And, because he belongs to a minority religion, one born in America, his election could represent a tale of tolerance, too.
The Romney campaign doesn’t need a vice-presidential gimmick. Mitt Romney just needs to be himself. That NAACP speech was a model and a turning point. “Take a look,” he said at his unleashing. If he keeps talking that way, whole new audiences might do just that.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.