Mitt Romney — The Executive
As the 2012 campaign season comes to my state with Tuesday’s Colorado Caucuses, I’ve decided to attend as many of the candidates’ local speeches as can be managed.
I attended a Rick Santorum rally last Wednesday the 1st. You can read my comments at this link: Rick Santorum — The Servant. In that post I also described each of the other three candidates with a single word: Romney is The Executive, Gingrich is The Visionary, and Ron Paul is The Ideologue.
I plan to attend a speech by Newt Gingrich on Monday the 6th. Today I am fortunate to be able to attend a rally for Mitt Romney.
Dateline: Springs Fabrication Plant, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Saturday February 4, 2:45 pm.
The event was held inside a manufacturing plant owned by a Romney supporter. There were no seats; event-goers stood behind a makeshift stage amidst various cranes and manufacturing equipment. The usable area was jam-packed but actually smaller than the space used by Santorum a few days earlier. I estimate the crowd to have been about one thousand, roughly the same size as Santorum drew. Romney’s people told me that no one was turned away for lack of space.
(No food was offered to the crowd at the Romney event; Santorum’s people provided a plate of homemade cookies (snickerdoodles) next to their sign-up sheet. These were much appreciated.)
Attending the Romney event were several significant GOP office-holders and endorsers such as Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams, and Colorado State GOP Vice-Chairman Leondray Gholston.
Gholston introduced an Iraq War veteran who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance which was followed by an invocation (led by Gholston). Gholston then introduced United States Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who introduced Mitt Romney.
I’m not a professional reporter. First I’ll do my best to recapitulate the speech objectively and then offer my opinions of it at the bottom of the post.
Wearing a white shirt and jeans, Mitt Romney spoke with a microphone in one hand and no notes.
Romney began by thanking the owner of the Springs Fabrication plant who hosted the event. He then introduced some members of his family behind him, although Mrs. Romney was not among those present. He thanked members of the nearby US Air Force Academy, and recognized dignitaries present including Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
Romney then launched into current issues, reminding the crowd that it is nearly three years to the day since Obama told an interviewer that he would only serve a single term if he was unable to turn the economy around. Romney reminded the crowd that these are tough times in America and then reeled off a series of statistics to buttress that claim. He remembered that it was Thomas Paine who said “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Romney then delivered the punch line: “Obama has shown he can’t lead, he won’t follow, not we must get him out of the way!”
The crowd cheered.
The build-up and the punch line of the opening remarks clearly showed me that Romney was reciting a well-practiced stump speech. This is of course the norm at such campaign rallies. Romney’s cadence is smooth; he delivers his facts and statistics dexterously.
Referring to recent positive jobs data Romney said he is happy that the American economy is slowly improving. However, he insisted, this is thanks to the entrepreneurship of businessmen like the owner of the Springs Fabrication plant and not to the policies of Barack Obama. Obama is borrowing too much money and that will never grow an economy.
Romney then reeled off a laundry list of promises and slogans after which each was met with loud cheers from the crowd. “Government is too big.” Cheers. “I will not slow government growth; instead I will cut the size of government entirely.” Cheers. “I will cut programs.” Cheers. “It is immoral to pass along debt to our kids for them to repay.” Cheers.
Romney decried Obama’s record of “crony capitalism” including the federal government’s 500 million dollar loan lost to bankrupt Solyndra. He then contrasted Solyndra with his successful shepherding of start-up company Staples, where “we invested only 5 to 10 million dollars and built a great business while holding our meetings in cheap, rented offices.” He asked the audience to compare his capitalistic successes to Obama’s delivery of car companies to the control of the UAW.
“With regard to health care,” Romney said quickly changing subjects, “I will repeal Obamacare as my first act. In energy I will expand drilling, the use of coal, and natural gas.”
Romney attacked Obama on foreign policy. He said Obama thinks America is in decline and so he reaches out to appease dictators: Ahmadinejad in Iran, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Kim Jong-il and now Kim Jong-un in North Korea. He said Obama plans to cut the military by 1 trillion dollars yet we have fewer ships in our Navy and fewer planes in our Air Force than we’ve had in decades. I (Romney) will add 100,000 troops and expand our Air Force and Navy building and modernization programs.
Obama, Romney said, wants us to become like Europe.
Finishing his speech, Governor Romney reminisced about the time in his boyhood when his parents “drove us across the country in a Rambler.” “It was then that I fell in love with this country and its people.” He referred to the patriotic song “America the Beautiful,” quoting a number of the lesser known verses full of paeans to the American experience. (Full lyrics here.)
Unfortunately Romney failed to mention the fact that “America the Beautiful” was written here in Colorado Springs. Had he done so it would have proved that he was truly attentive to his audience. The crowd didn’t seem to notice, but I did.
As a denouement Romney reminded the crowd that in the Declaration, God endowed us with Rights, that among these are the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness as WE choose, not as the government directs. These principles make us who we are. “Hold true to principles of the Constitution and the Declaration and we will overcome all obstacles!”
The crowd roared and some chanted USA! USA! as Romney waved in appreciation.
The speech had taken 21 minutes. The Governor spent the next nine minutes shaking hands in the crowd. I noticed that Romney spent less time chatting with individual well-wishers than Santorum had a few nights earlier.
Then I noticed Romney smile an odd clownish smile and zigzag from one edge of the stage to its opposite. Apparently he was trying to show a new segment of outstretched hands that he had even greater enthusiasm for them than he had for the previous bunch. In this gesture I think I detected an act. Let me not be misunderstood. I do not believe Romney has a veiled hatred of people but rather fakes sentimentality to please them.
This speech as a whole was an exercise in crowd participation like the holler and holler-back of a cheerleading routine. Mitt would offer a line, a fact or situation, and then a promise to do differently. Then the crowd would cheer.
I didn’t find myself disagreeing with much of what Romney said. Furthermore the positive statements Romney made outnumbered the negative — the speech was more about what he would do as President than what Obama had failed to do. Nevertheless it lacked a central theme beyond “I’ll do what we all think will improve us all” and so I wasn’t drawn along by his enthusiasm. Without such a central theme I left the rally with only a vague understanding of how Mitt Romney might react to future circumstances yet unrevealed to us. These will come. They always do.
In my previous post (Rick Santorum — The Servant), I described Romney as The Executive in the following terms:
Romney is The Executive. Give him a job like running the Olympics or building big companies and he gets the job done. Unfortunately he is incapable of knowing which job to do. He’s been on both sides of so many issues (abortion, cap and trade, health care mandate, global warming, gun control, etc. etc. etc.) that he obviously will need some direction as President.
Please discard the Hollywood notion that an Executive is a fat, greedy, worthless and ultimately lazy leech upon society. Such a view is a caricature made for the purpose of comedy. I’ve known a few executives in my years in the business world. They are always sharp and focused people and because of this can seem aloof and unsentimental. Yet executives come in many types. Some I have known were scrupulously honest and charitable while others were not. Some were religious while others were not. Some friendly while others humorless. But in every case the executives I’ve met were highly attentive, goal- and achievement-oriented people. That of course does not mean they were always right; sometimes their extreme focus causes them to lose sight of the bigger perspective.
Such executive characteristics have important advantages for one seeking to become the chief executive of the United States. A sharp focus combined with an energetic perseverance will get things done. The Executive is driven by the prospect of achievement and is abhorrent of failure. However, the Executive performs best when his or her goals can be empirically measured and demonstrated. In Romney’s case he has such experience when he made the Olympics profitable and built successful companies.
In the speech at the rally Romney specifically mentioned “cutting government” (not just slowing its growth) and “repealing Obamacare.” Such specifics are great news for conservatives since this means he accepts these items as personal goals to be achieved. History suggests he will actually try to achieve them rather than just move in such a direction. The more specificity that can be drawn out of Romney the better.
However, because of his focus on measurable goals, Romney will have difficulty understanding abstractions such as “the good of the country.” He may lack the prudence (judgement) to address important issues in a non-economic way. Romney has had difficulty choosing sides on social issues such as health care mandates, gun control, abortion, gay marriage and the like. His approach to the theoretical danger of Global Warming is confused. As such issues confound his focus he may seek an escape, opting for the path of least resistance rather than the path of the greatest good.
This may be most troublesome for the country. Americans are greatly divided on social issues and a Romney election will be seen as merely an economic victory for the Right and not a referendum on other issues. Romney therefore will not be capable of leading the country in this respect, and the American Culture War will continue.
Executives are often seen as obtuse. I believe this is both true and fair in the sense that their extreme focus on achievement blinds them to other concerns. For Romney, working a crowd is probably more a part of the job to be endured than an enjoyment of the moment. People will recognize that and he will certainly be attacked as distant and cold.
Unlike previous GOP “moderates” John McCain and Bob Dole, Romney is at heart a businessman unhabituated to accepting Washington gridlock as the norm. He is a determined man with a history of achievement and will be a formidable opponent during the election campaign and in the White House should he get there.
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