Why Mitt Romney Has My Best Wishes, But Not My Support
In New Hampshire at this hour, Mitt Romney is announcing his second candidacy for the presidency. He is in many ways a good and impressive man, and I wish him well. But I do not wish him the Republican nomination.
On policy, of course, Mitt Romney has a single large achievement, the enactment of mandatory health coverage in Massachusetts, or RomneyCare, which did a great deal to make possible ObamaCare--and which, even now, Romney refuses to recant. "For a right-leaning businessman with no conservative philosophical roots, no great familiarity with the range of conservative thinking on health care, and no deep skepticism about the way politics and bureaucracies work," as Ramesh Ponnuru writes in the current issue of National Review, "the plan must have had strong appeal." Yet the plan has proven costlier than Romney promised, increased waiting times even for routine medical procedures, increased the number of insured citizens only modestly, and, in the form of the individual mandate, profoundly altered the relationship between the state government and the citizens of Massachusetts. RomneyCare was wrong--all wrong--yet Romney continues to embrace it.
What disqualifies Romney for me personally however, is something that has received little attention. Running for the Senate in 1994, Romney debated Edward Kennedy. The following brief exchange took place (you can see the exchange yourself about a third of the way through this video):
KENNEDY: Under your economic program, under the program of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush, we say the growth in terms of the unemployment, the growth in the number of children living in poverty....
ROMNEY: Look, I was an Independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.
A brief exchange, as I say, yet think about. The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush represented a pivotal moment in American history. Reagan rebuilt our defenses, restored the nation's morale, won the Cold War, and set in place the economic policies of limited government and lower taxes that initiated a quarter of a century of economic expansion, and then Bush consolidated and for the most part continued Reagan's policies. Americans in the tens of millions understood the importance of what was taking place--and supported it, even in Massachusetts, which Ronald Reagan carried in both 1980 and 1984. Unemployment didn't rise during those dozen years. It fell. Poverty didn't increase. It shrank. Yet in his exchange with Kennedy, Romney proved too defensive--too frankly unnerved--to remind Kennedy of the record. That says something basic about Romney. It says he lacks conviction. To quote Ramesh once again, Romney is a man "of no conservative philosophical roots."
Romney's exchange with Kennedy also revealed something basic about his character, at least his political character.
Tens of thousands of members of Romney's generation gave of themselves to help Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush do what they did. In Washington, young men and women accepted long hours and modest salaries to staff the White House and the agencies, fighting--and it was a fight--to implement their policies. In the country at large, thousands more fought the fight at the level of local politics, organizing, persuading, turning out the vote. These young Americans recognized that something important--something historic--was taking place. They took part. They extended themselves. They worked. They fought.
Mitt Romney? On his own account, he sat it out.
When I said on a podcast a couple of weeks ago that I thought Romney was too badly wounded to win the nomination, Ricochet member Richard Young put up a post, vividly begging to differ--and elicited dozens of comments, many supporting Romney. That's as it should be. We're here on Ricochet to exchange ideas, opening our minds to each other, and sharing our enthusiasms, and even if I remain convinced that Romney cannot win the nomination, he represents a major candidate. In other words, Richard, and other Romney supporters among the great Ricochetoise, keep at it.
But I wanted to explain myself, letting you know that I won't be joining you. Anyone of intelligence and accomplishment who sat out the Reagan years so completely that he remained an Independent has no right to ask the rest of his to make him Reagan's successor.