Nobody seems to like Mitt Romney these days, especially not dog-lovers, and we've certainly seen his shortcomings this season. But there are definitely things to like about him as a candidate. Here are five:
1) Clear thinking and concrete goals. In July 2007, Foreign Affairs solicited foreign policy platforms from the presidential contenders. I read a bunch of them, and was surprised to find that not only was Romney's the most thoughtful and interesting, but also the only one to discuss numbers and concrete goals. It makes sense. Clear thinking is something that probably got him to the top of management consulting; it's the essential business school trait, a place where he apparently thrived. How else could he prove "the value of family time based not on emotion but on yield?" All else equal, this is a quality I would like to see in a president.
2) Smart advisors. Romney's advisors include Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw, both former Bush 43 officials and currently professors, and I like both of them. I think this is how he came to seriously grapple with Medicare and emerge endorsing a version of the Confident Market solution, which seems to be the best conservative thought on the subject. It's something I'm going to need to study more seriously if it ever takes a lead role in the national conversation – which, having filtered into a Wyden-Ryan proposal, is a real possibility – but until then, at least it's a serious idea endorsed by serious people. Credit to the advisors, and the man smart enough to believe in them.
3) Romneycare. I know he's taken pains to avoid the subject on the campaign trail, and his defense that it was appropriate for Massachusetts and not America make him seem like a weasel. But it's still pretty good legislation that increased coverage rates and reasonably contained costs (although if Romney's eight vetoes had gone through – many aimed at reducing coverage for the least well off – it probably would have been a worse bill). In fact, Romney's entire record as governor was pretty conciliatory towards liberals. In a conservative, compromise is a quality I appreciate, so score one for W.M.R. (fun fact: his first name is Willard)
4) Salt Lake City Olympics. If Romney's central claim is that private sector experience will translate to running the economy well, the 2002 Winter Olympics should be exhibit A. He really did a good job. He came in after a now long-forgotten bribery scandal and turned out a successful Winter Games that produced $100 million in profits. His self-promotion around the event has probably been somewhat overboard, but hey, in his shoes, I'd probably go overboard too. That's what running for president means.
5) Experience with the Mormon Church. For a man who earned more in the last year than I will in my lifetime, empathy with truly disadvantaged people might be a challenge. Good thing, then, that Romney has both spent two years of his life as a dirt poor missionary and counseled people through a variety of crises as a leader in the Church of Latter Day Saints. That's pretty cool. I want to hear more about those experiences. In fairness, he's probably avoided the subject because, according to that same article, 19% of Evangelical Republicans say they won't vote for a Mormon. (Ouch). But I suspect that once it's Romney vs. Obama and the ring's set up, a lot of that 19% is going to somehow rationalize a change of opinion, and he'll discuss his faith more.
None of this is to say I want him as president. I find his lack of political courage absolutely pitiful; his deliberate efforts to remain a cipher make me deeply uneasy; and although I can't prove it (because Romney has presented such different faces to different audiences and times), I think his true conviction is that providing an unobstructed playing field for the very best off is the path towards national prosperity. I've really had enough of that particular myth. But there are things to like about him, and if he wins in November, I'll deal. I'll even go a step farther. If, over the next nine months, he sets out a serious "shared prosperity" program that addresses America's core illnesses – economic immobility, the accompanying social stratification, and a general lack of planning for our long-term economic health (which, it should be said, Rick Santorum gets credit for addressing) – then I would at least consider casting my first Republican vote.
Then again, I can picture a position in which Romney would be an undeniable asset: Deputy Secretary of Defense. Pentagon budgets are routinely wasteful and filled with overruns, but as Lawrence J. Korb argues, "the Pentagon does not have a resource problem ... it has a management problem." Historically, when a strong Deputy Secretary with management experience steps up, costs go down with no material damage to our security position. This is a spot in which someone with a knack for solving concrete problems, someone who perhaps likes to fire people, would thrive. I'd be shocked if this actually happened, but I can always hope.
Share your thoughts: Liberals, what are two things you like about Mitt Romney? Conservatives, what are two things you like about Barack Obama?
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