Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Republican Presidential Candidates: Romney

Since I am conservative, you might think that I would be following the Republican primaries closely. I used to: when I was in 5th grade, I carefully tracked the race between Reagan, Bush, and Anderson on a piece of graph paper, recording percentage vote and delegates for each state. In the meantime, I have become jaded. Not that there is anything wrong with the process, but I have so little to do with the outcome that I don't bother to learn much about it until it gets much closer to the convention.

Being unimportant and ill-informed does not, however, prevent me from sharing my views with the world. I have never been as down on Romney as most people are. To begin with, he is absolutely right about the distinction between state vs. federal mandated health care. Not too long ago, I was arguing this point with someone who said, "Don't be naive, Virginia's constitution is more restrictive than the federal constitution, yet Virginia requires people to buy automobile insurance." I was curious, so I looked it up (as expected, the Virginia constitution is on line). Here is what I found: "The authority of the General Assembly shall extend to all subjects of legislation not herein forbidden or restricted" (and further verbiage to the same effect; Article IV, Section 14). In other words, the Virginia constitution is the exact opposite of the federal one, in that it reserves all powers to the government that are not specifically denied to it, whereas the federal constitution reserves all rights to the people and states that are not explicitly granted to Congress. This difference is there on purpose, as the states are supposed to be sovereign governments, and Congress is supposed to regulate relations among them. Even though I would not have proposed a health insurance mandate had I been governor of Massachusetts, Romney is clearly correct to say that it is a separate issue from whether he supports a federal mandate.

I also disagree with the criticism of Romney as too smooth. To be honest, I don't completely understand this criticism. I can see how "smooth" might come across as "phony" in some instances; however, in my view chances to view Romney speak, he seemed anything but phony. Being smooth is not a flaw; it is a highly desirable trait (and I say this as someone who noticeably lacks it). Being smooth implies knowing who you are and where you stand; it implies coolness under pressure. These are precisely the traits that one looks for in a leader. "Leadership" is a fuzzy concept, but I have come increasingly to appreciate its value in politics. Leadership sometimes means taking an unpopular but morally correct stance in public, but I think that is just one aspect of the broader sense of leadership as getting people to do what you want. Sooner or later, politics comes down to persuasion; it is about convincing people of the right path. Surely, having some beliefs that you stick to is part of persuasion. If you merely do what is popular, there is no need to persuade. But that is more like a necessary prerequisite than an essential characteristic of leadership. Leadership requires one to present a convincing case in a convincing manner. It means reassuring people to stick by a decision even if it doesn't appear to be right in the short run; even if, by human measure, it will never seem to work out, but you should do it anyway because it is the right thing. Leadership can be used for bad purposes, of course, and often is. That does not mean, however, that people with good purposes should eschew leadership. It is not only possible, but highly desirable, for a good person to be a good leader. This can come across in different ways. Sometimes a shy or awkward person can turn out to be a good leader. More often, one would expect leadership from someone who is confident in himself and his beliefs. I don't know if Romney necessarily qualifies as a good leader, but his demeanour suggests that he may be, and I don't perceive that as a negative characteristic.

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