Politics & Policy

The Superb Mitt Romney

About 20 years ago, I often said, “You can say anything about Clarence Thomas. No matter how vile, false, or even racist, you can say it about Thomas, and get away with it. The culture permits it. It’s open season on Clarence Thomas.”

Many years later, I said something similar about Sarah Palin. And I can almost say something similar about Mitt Romney. What I have heard since Election Day is astonishing. Romney has been turned into something he has never been.

The Left has been atrocious, because, why wouldn’t it be? It’s my fellow conservatives I’m talking about. Instant revision and reviling is natural after a loss, I suppose. But the number done on Romney has been galling, to me.

I propose to make a few notes . . .

‐A few weeks ago, I settled down to read a column by Iain Martin, the excellent British journalist. I did not get past the second paragraph. Because in that paragraph he wrote that the likely explanation for the American election result was that “the Republicans had blundered by choosing as their candidate a plutocratic chap called Mitt Romney who, having been born into great privilege and luxury, seemed to be out of touch with the concerns of most voters.”

Romney is not plutocratic, he is democratic — a democratic thinker and politician through and through. A democratic spirit. His proposals were designed to help millions of others enjoy some of the success that he and his family have enjoyed.

Romney is classically, almost stereotypically, American — at least as we used to conceive Americanness. The reference to him as “plutocratic” is not just lazy but moronic. I would expect it from my fellow Americans — the rot, the idiocy, set in here long ago. I have higher standards for the Brits.

As for Romney’s being “out of touch with the concerns of most voters,” I can tell you that he was in touch with my concerns. And those of many others, I gather: He got between 47 and 48 percent on Election Day.

But that is not most voters, to be sure . . .

A footnote: A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a new book that, in the initial pages, described Ron Radosh as “an anti-communist ideologue.” I could not go on with the book. Maybe I missed something and should have persevered. Maybe I would have been rewarded. But my thinking was, anyone who could describe Ron as “an anti-communist ideologue” is either too ignorant or too dishonest to be worth the time.

‐Over and over again — day after day — my fellow conservatives have been saying that Romney scanted the “middle class.” He paid too little attention to the “middle class.” He offered nothing to the “middle class.”

It has been maybe the chief refrain on the right since Election Day.

First, “middle class” is such a bogus term — meaningless, obnoxious, cheap. It is a term of Marxists and demagogues and that whole Bidenesque world. My fellow conservatives are using it constantly. I expect them next to refer to the “petite bourgeoisie.” That is hardly a less respectable term than “middle class.”

Second, Romney talked about the “middle class” until he was blue in the face. I know, because I regularly knocked him for it.

After one blessed debate during the Republican primaries, a conservative pundit said, “Romney didn’t even mention the word ‘middle class’!” This was supposed to have been a terrible failure — practically a crime against humanity. Romney was talking to Americans as Americans, not as classes. I praised him for it.

But he did not often make that mistake again — the “mistake” of not saying “middle class.”

Do you remember this moment during the primaries? Romney said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. There’s a safety net there, and if it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich — they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the heart of America, the 95 percent of Americans who are right now struggling.”

I guess he meant the “middle class.” In this instance, he called them “the heart of America,” or “the 95 percent.” Anyway, conservatives went absolutely nuts. They wet their pants. “Romney said he doesn’t care about the poor! Eek, eek!” He had committed a terrible gaffe, according to the media at large. Romney was always being accused of committing “gaffes” when he said perfectly sensible things — such as the above.

So, what did Romney offer the “middle class”? I’ll tell you what: He offered to avert financial collapse. To do something about the debt and the deficit. To reform entitlements. To reform the tax code. To foster the conditions in which economic growth occurs. To help put people back to work. To save the frickin’ country.

That’s not program enough for the “middle class”? What does he have to do, enter each of their homes and bake them muffins? Swab their floors? (Actually, knowing him and his neighborliness, he would do that.)

Saving the country — that should have been enough. And if it wasn’t good enough for the “middle class,” then the “middle class” is an ass.

‐In the first week of December, there was something called the Kemp Foundation Leadership Award Dinner. This excited conservative hearts. Paul Ryan especially excited them, I think. I saw this quoted, from his speech:

As it stands, our party excels at representing the aspirations of our nation’s risk-takers. We celebrate that part of the American Dream that involves finding your passion and making a living from it.

But there is another part of the American creed: When our neighbors are struggling, we look out for one another. We do that best through our families and communities — and our party must stand for making them stronger.

This was supposed to have been deeply wise — also novel. Me, I was thinking, “Does anyone know anyone who does more for his neighbor than Mitt Romney? Does anyone know anyone who gives more time or money?”

Has there ever been a more charitable and philanthropic candidate in the history of candidates? Goodness gracious. What’s more, has there ever been anyone more modest about his charity and philanthropy?

Let me quote the Sermon on the Mount (assuming that’s still legal in Sotomayor’s America): “. . . when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

‐Think for a second about Joe Biden, whom everyone credits with great generosity and “heart.” I quote from a USA Today article published during the ’08 campaign: “The Bidens reported giving $995 in charitable donations last year — about 0.3% of their income and the highest amount in the past decade. The low was $120 in 1999, about 0.1% of yearly income.”

Here’s a line from a Politico article published in September: “Biden and his wife, Jill, gave 1.5 percent of their income away in 2011, with charitable donations totaling $5,540 out of $379,035.”

Romney, of course, is the “plutocrat” and Scrooge. Our national conception of morality is grotesque.

‐Back to this “middle class” business, and Romney’s supposed failings — his supposed indifference. We conservatives are schizophrenic. What I mean is this: When someone comes along talking about “compassionate conservatism,” we dump all over him. We recoil in horror. “Like freedom isn’t good enough, you big pansy? What are we supposed to do, change the nation’s diaper? Toughen up!”

Then we dump all over Romney for not being cuddly enough — for being too “capitalist.”

Republicans and conservatives are babies — maybe we need to be diapered. We’re always bitching that no politician is good enough to represent us. This is not only wrong, it’s ungrateful. We should be grateful that so fine a man as Mitt Romney wanted to throw his hat in the ring and carry the water for our sorry behinds.

‐Around the time of this Kemp dinner, the refrain was, “Oh, Jack, oh, Kemp, where have you gone? We need you. Why can’t today’s Republican party be like Jack Kemp?”

Let me tell you something: There was a lot to admire about Jack Kemp. But he was also a flake. Or rather, he had a big ol’ streak of flakiness. His enthusiasms could be shallow and embarrassing. In the 1990s, he was complaining that the Clinton administration was being far too beastly to that misunderstood Saddam Hussein.

And he was not so hot a politician. Could he get elected dog-catcher, outside of Buffalo, where he had been a football hero? On the 1996 ticket, he proved maybe the worst candidate in memory. Bob Dole, at the top of the ticket, who everyone says was a lousy candidate, was much, much better than his running mate. Much.

Moreover, Kemp would never run for anything — anything besides president and vice president. He would never run for senator or governor. Would never challenge Moynihan or Cuomo. Would not stick his neck out in this way. He preferred to swan around Washington, being a celebrity and whatnot.

Fine — we all make choices. I’m not exactly setting the world on fire. But Kemp as our role model? In my view, the dumped-on Romney is much the more impressive man.

‐I spend half my life dumping on politicians — including Republican standard-bearers, including Mitt Romney. Look what I have just done to poor Kemp, who’s long dead!

But I try to remember this: Politics is hard. Vote-getting is hard. Have you ever tried it? How many votes would you get? How many votes would any of us at National Review or National Review Online get?

We always think we know better than the men in the arena. Jack Kemp made himself an important congressman and an important national figure, and here I am, weeing on his grave. I’ve never so much as manned a phone bank.

Look: Sometimes you sell your product the best you can, and the people aren’t buying. They don’t want it. So much the worse for the people. Romney is supposed to be a “failed” candidate. In a sense, sure. I think of the electorate as failed.

‐On December 4, I read an article by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. It began,

The nation is heading toward the “fiscal cliff,” but have no fear: Mitt Romney is coming to the rescue — of Marriott International Inc.

In his first public comments since election night, the defeated Republican presidential nominee issued a statement Monday announcing his next step. An appeal to national unity? A charitable initiative?

No, he announced that he was rejoining the hotel chain’s board of directors. “It is an honor to once again be able to serve in the company of leaders like Bill Marriott,” said Romney’s statement, distributed by Marriott.

Good. I’m glad he has rejoined that board. Why shouldn’t he? He was named after the hotel chain’s founder, a close friend of his father’s. The Marriott company is part of Romney’s life. So? Romney was not a candidate who hated business, remember.

And how about Milbank’s little snark about a “charitable initiative”? Does he want to lecture Romney about charity? Really? Does he have the standing?

Milbank further wrote, “The country is in a crisis, political leaders in a standoff, and Romney is joining his buddy’s corporate board.” Well, Romney ran for president. He did so for many years. He ran as hard and as well as he could. He offered a very, very sharp contrast with Barack Obama.

And the people said, “Forward! Four more years! Fundamental transformation! Obama! The One!”

Yeah? Okay.

More Milbank: “Romney’s post-election behavior has been, in a word, small.” In my view, it has been gracious, dignified, and appropriate — utterly like him. A guy like Bill Clinton will never get off the stage. He is always in our face. Romney was on the stage for a long time — and now he has gotten off the stage, leaving it to our elected leaders.

Clinton will always be “the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.” He can’t help it. And the mainstream media abet him, of course. Romney is a much different cat. And if he had tried to stay on the stage, people would surely be denouncing him for that: “Can’t you take no for an answer? Didn’t you listen to the people on Election Day? Go away.”

One more thing: Dana Milbank wants Romney to be part of public affairs now. During the campaign, when it mattered, did Milbank say that Romney had something vital to offer the country economically and otherwise?

‐There’s no accounting for taste. Obama is the hero of “progressive” America, and the hero of black America. Romney is the great ogre — clueless, if not callous.

But who did all he could to snatch school choice from poor black children in Washington, D.C.? Obama did. These are children who, without choice, would have to go to wretched and violent schools. Schools where no learning can take place. Schools where no hope exists. Schools very much unlike the one to which Obama sends his own kids. Obama stood in the schoolhouse door.

The great hero! “Forward!” “The One!” There’s no accounting for taste — I long ago gave up.

‐In 2011, Politico quoted a “prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House”: “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney.” In a sense, it is still happening, from various quarters.

‐Romney had his faults, and I have spilled my share of ink on those faults — both in the 2008 campaign and in the 2012 campaign. For instance, I think his approach in the second and third debates with Obama was tragic.

But, oh, the virtues! Romney is one of the brightest, most capable, most admirable men ever to run for president. He would have been an excellent and pivotal president, I believe — the “turnaround artist” we needed. But, in a democracy, the people get what they deserve. They now have what they deserve, or at least a majority does.

“Hang on, Nordlinger, are you saying that Romney was better than the country?” Yeah, I guess I am. Not being a politician, I have the luxury of not having to flatter The People. He was also better than most of us who sit, scribble, and crab.

‐At the moment, conservatives seem to be in love with Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and a few others. Don’t worry. Let one of them be nominated, and his name will be mud. He won’t be able to do anything right. And if he loses the general — worse than mud.

‐Let me close with a memory from 1984. I was particularly engaged with the presidential campaign that year — I was coming of age, politically. It was an exciting and turbulent election. Geraldine Ferraro was thought to be a big factor — she would attract women and “Mediterranean ethnics.” Mondale clobbered Reagan in the first debate. It was white-knuckle time, for the Republicans.

At the end of the campaign, Reagan pulled away, winning 49 states to 1. And Jack Germond and Jules Witcover published a book about the campaign: Wake Us When It’s Over.

I remember being scandalized by that title: It was misleading, dishonest. I listened to Germond on The McLaughlin Group throughout the entire campaign. He never gave the sense that the campaign was a yawner. He never expressed a “wake us when it’s over” attitude.

That title was totally after the fact. And it taught me something: After Election Day, the truth about a campaign can go out the window. The revision can set in instantly.

It’s only January. I remember Mitt Romney as a very good nominee, on balance — and a sterling man who would have made an excellent president, possibly a great one. Already, however, he has been turned into a plutocratic, out-of-touch stumblebum who never really had a chance and never should have been nominated.

What a crock. But very human.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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