During a campaign stop months ago in Florida, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared that since he is unemployed, he can understand the plight of the jobless. Romney, whose father was the governor of Michigan and chairman of the American Motors Corporation, grew up in a privileged milieu and had since earned a vast fortune in business, and was trying to relate to those who feel anxious about their economic situation. Unlike the constancy that characterizes his private life, he incessantly changes his political views in ways that suit his political objectives.
Hence, the same way that a businessman would create a product based on the preferences of his customers, Romney tailors his political stances on what he believes the voters want to hear. Carl Von Clausewitz, a noted German military theorist, once said that “war is the continuation of policy by other means.” For Romney, it could be said that politics is the continuation of business by other means.
On the campaign trail, Romney often says that he is a businessman who happens to be running for public office. His opponents sometimes mocked him for making these statements. Although these comments might indeed conflict with the facts, since Romney has been running for office since the 1990s, they contain an element of truth. As he seeks to garner votes, Romney tends to rely on the basic business principles of understanding and adapting to the demands of the market. Most people who have been successful in business subscribe to these basic tenets. In each of his campaigns, Romney’s stances always dovetail, perhaps too harmoniously, with the constituents whose votes he is seeking.
This business mindset was in full display in his first run against the liberal heavyweight Ted Kennedy. In order to challenge one of the most celebrated liberal in the Senate in one of the bluest-most liberal-state in the country, Romney espoused many progressive views. Even though he has been criticized for being passionless, he was passionate in supporting abortion rights. In fact, he purported to be more gung-ho on gay rights than Kennedy and he even distanced himself from the economic records of Ronald Reagan. Though he ultimately lost the race, these stances were certainly an important factor in his successful run for the governorship.
In 2008, as he sought to become the Republican nominee, Romney underwent a metamorphosis. Since he had to appeal to a conservative electorate, he became pro-life; notwithstanding the heartfelt story that he told so convincingly about a family member in the race against Kennedy to burnish his pro-choice credential. He went on to modify his support for gay rights and became a great admirer of Ronald Regan.
In his current campaign, he moved even further to the right in order to appeal to the Tea Party and other ardent conservatives. This rightward shift has been characterized by the full shedding of any past positions that could be an inconvenience. During the last presidential race, he has touted his Massachusetts health care law as a possible model for the nation. After conservatives started railing against the president’s health care law, which has been modeled after the Massachusetts plan, Romney strongly favors its repeal. He also used to be in favor of an immigration law that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Now, he characterizes this proposal as amnesty and strongly opposes any law that provides such path.
The repacking does not only apply to policies; Romney is also trying to sell himself as a regular guy. At a time when millions of people are struggling economically, Romney tries to pass himself off as a regular guy who can relate to the economic anxieties of those who are out of work or might be worried about losing their jobs. In a recent campaign event, Romney was reminiscing about a time when he was anxious about getting fired. To further underscore this point, he also maintained that he had lived in France in a house with no "no baths or showers." It turns out that he was living in a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood.
Romney has been dubbed a flip flopper because he discards troublesome positions like an empty soda can. In a recent column, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote that Romney "acts as if the truth is beneath him." While an examination of Romney’s life as a private citizen would clearly show the strong influence of his religious beliefs, his public persona, on the other hand, betrays the embrace of a business ethos that puts a premium on giving the people what they want. Such ethos was also the guiding light of Romney’s time as governor. His policies closely track the ideology tenor of Massachusetts. After all, Romney raised taxes on corporations and his signature achievement was providing universal health care for the residents of the state.
As a Republican president, Romney would try to cater an electorate that is much more conservative especially as he seeks to bolster support among conservative activists for his reelection. His policies would, therefore, reflect the demands and expectations of those constituents. However, if Romney senses that the majority of the public wants him to pass tougher regulation on Wall Street, raise taxes on the wealthy to deal with the ballooning deficit and his refusal to do so could hurt his reelection chances, he would certainly entertain such action.
The question still remains: What does Romney stand for? Romney is not wedded to any set of political principles. Political stances, thus, are merely a means to an end. As he set out to ascend to the presidency, he would let public opinion guide his political sails. Any businessman knows that success heavily depends on knowing how best to satisfy the intended target. It is a principle that Romney has taken to heart throughout his political career albeit with limited success since he only won one election. Will it take him to the White House? Only time will tell.
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