By Cody Ray Shafer
Mitt Romney says he wants to fight poverty because he really wants to be president. I’m not suggesting he’ll do or say anything to be president—I would go that far—but rather, that the message is less important to him than is the opportunity to just do it. Romney has a major messaging problem. He’s never good at actualizing his ideas, because he doesn’t think sharing them on the campaign trail really matters. He believes that once he’s in the oval office, he’ll just get it done.
When I watched Mitt (here’s a review from my blog), one positive thing that struck me from the otherwise saccharine documentary was Romney’s propensity for good ideas, and the disconnect over his campaign’s aversion to sharing them. Romney wants to fix poverty, but he also wants to fix everything as president. He wants to do it all. He’s picking poverty now because he’s running against a yet undefined future foe, and he may have a point about poverty getting worse during the Obama era rather than better. Whether or not Obama had anything to do with that isn’t really the point, because Romney can run against Obama without threat of Obama running back.
The damage Romney has to undo goes deeper than “47%.” He’s also famously doubled down on “corporations are people,” not to mention the $10,000 bet, car elevators, and the fact that he’s really incredibly wealthy and is a member of a party that is generally seen promoting policies that favor the poor.
But what if Romney is, in fact, the next Franklin Roosevelt? After all, FDR also came from a background of comfortable wealth, yet still managed to promote an agenda that largely served the poor and middle class, and his presidency actually realigned the polarity of American politics. Does a Romney presidency have that much potential for sea change? What if populists and liberals threw caution to the wind and actually backed Romney in 2016 based on his record as reformer governor who pioneered an overhaul in health care policy and ran for president on a platform that promised economic equality and big handouts for the poor?
Of course, voters would have to pretend the 2008 and 2012 elections never happened, we’d have to assume modern Republican voters would ever support such policies, and that the troubling partisan divide that shapes our national debates doesn’t exist either. And then we have to consider who the Democrats tap to run in 2016 which already assumes Romney gets the nomination in the first place. Could you imagine Romney’s newfound populism standing up against Elizabeth Warren’s record?
And herein lies the problem with Romney as a politician—he’s simply terrible at it. The distance between the message and the man is a deep, muddling void. Romney is a man full of good ideas and he knows how to govern, but he doesn’t know or care for the process that gets someone there in the first place. Worse yet, he doesn’t bother to connect the dots between his good ideas and ideas that will get him votes, which kind of suggest a deep resentment of voters in the first place. Which begs the question—why does he want to be president so badly? Surely there are other ways to help the common good outside of executive office? Am I that naïve? What does he get out of this? What’s in it for him?
For all the good ideas Romney has, there’s one that mysteriously eludes him; the sense to stand back and let somebody else do it.