Borrowing Boldness

When people say there are only two kinds of people in the world they establish all sorts of binary differentiations – normal people who like dogs versus those strange and somehow sinister people who like those uncooperative and nasty cats, or people who like to live in the city, with all its exciting energy, versus those who want to live in the bucolic countryside, with all the fresh air, the quiet, and all the bugs and the boredom. Some people like everything French – the natural grace and elegance, the sense of style and unhurried appreciation of the quiet good life, and even their quite awful pop music – while others will have nothing to do with those cheese-eating surrender monkeys – as being loud and brash and in-your-face crude about everything is to be honest and authentic. Some people like opera – and then there’s most everyone else. And of course there’s religion, where there are those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and everyone else who must be converted or die, in the name of love. Muslims, or so we seem to think, also say anyone who doesn’t follow their guy must be converted or die, because this whole religious business is binary, really. Of course there are exceptions – Buddhists search for enlightenment that leads to inner peace and don’t much care what those not on that quest are doing with their lives at any given moment – but that is why Buddhism is often called an ethic, not a religion. And of course there are the Unitarians – it’s all good you see. And the lists go on and on – friends don’t let friends drive Chevys after all. And how can you trust someone who doesn’t like cute babies and the cute way they scream at the top of their lungs through your whole five-hour flight to the east coast?

Yes, we keep making these global pronouncements about how there are only two kinds of people in the world, but anyone can see that’s only marginally useful. The world is always more complex than any binary explanation allows.

But one differentiation really does seem to be useful – realizing that there are risk-takers in this world, not only curious about everything, but willing to try it, whatever it is – and the careful folks, who think things through and weigh their options, and only then go for it, whatever it is. And each has its advantages. The bold, with that what-the-hell attitude, are those who get things done in this world, and they lead a full and amazing life. But it may be a short life. The careful folks do cool things too, eventually, and they live a whole lot longer. And yes, this is pretty much George Bush, and then John McCain, versus Barack Obama – it’s simple so let’s do it and see what happens, versus let’s think about this and not do anything too very stupid, and in fact do it right. And as much as the political analysts talk endlessly about the liberal-conservative divide, discussing this policy or that, and underlying visions of the proper role of government, it’s easy to see that the real divide is temperament. Conservatives are bold – or hotheaded and reckless – while liberals are timid and useless – or thoughtful and effective and likely to keep the nation out of any foolishness, like that Iraq War. Obama himself said it when he kept explaining his opposition to our Iraq adventure – he wasn’t against all wars, just dumb wars. That is, after all, why we’re still in Afghanistan, although he is rethinking that. But that’s it, precisely – there are those who are always thinking, playing three-dimensional chess or whatever, and those that are always doing, being bold. That better defines the choice we were offered last time around, as it wasn’t liberal verses conservative. Obama, by any non-political definition of the word, is conservative. And the Tea Party crowd, wanting to end government as we know it now, is about as radical as any left-wing hippie group in the sixties ever was. The battle now seems to be over which sort of temperament you want in the White House, whichever political label gets pinned to the guy.

And that makes Mitt Romney the oddest of candidates for the conservative right to run against Obama, as Romney is clearly risk-averse, which, as Stephen Hayes, in the Weekly Standard explains, is driving Republicans nuts:

Mitt Romney wants to eliminate government programs and shutter cabinet agencies. Doing so, he says, is “the critical thing” that needs to be done in order to bring government books back into balance and to begin restoring the promise of America. “Actually eliminating programs is the most important way to keep Congress from stuffing the money back into them,” he told me in a 30-minute interview on March 21. It’s a smart answer and a deeply conservative one.

But Romney, ever cautious, is reluctant to get specific about the programs he would like to kill. He did this in his bid for the Senate 18 years ago and remembers the political ramifications.

“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”

What did he say? This wasn’t bold, like Rick Parry boldly saying he’d eliminate three federal agencies, then unable to remember what the third one was. Romney won’t make that mistake, even if that is a problem:

Romney’s answer goes a long way to explain why some conservatives have been reluctant to embrace his candidacy. They want a list. They want it to be long, they want it to be detailed, and they want a candidate who is not only willing to provide one but eager to campaign on it. This is especially true after the historic success of the unapologetic, aggressive strain of conservatism that triumphed in the 2010 midterm elections.

That’s not Mitt Romney. It never will be.

But the price for that is high:

His inveterate risk-aversion often comes off as a lack of commitment to conservative policies and goals, a perception that confounds his advisers, who say that Romney, in the spirit of the turnaround campaigns that marked his career in the private sector, is dedicated to profound, even radical, changes in what the federal government does and how it operates.

He just wants to think those profound, even radical, changes through. And everyone remembers the Republican primaries. The unapologetic, aggressive strain of conservatism wanted bold, and they got it – Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich and Santorum – and the bold imploded, one by one, as they were asked about the rationale and details of what they were proposing. It seems it wasn’t enough to be bold. It was also necessary to make sense. And Romney saw that. But he’s also not dumb, so he realizes he’d better borrow some bold, to compensate for his carefulness, and he has appeared at Tea Party events, and he is a regular on conservative talk radio, and he courted Ted Nugent, and he coldly dumped his new spokesman on foreign policy, a guy who has worked for John Bolton of all people, because the man was gay and the evangelical right was appalled. With this crowd, when you’re not bold by nature you at least pay homage to it.

And that probably explains the big story of the day:

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign collided with Donald Trump’s “birther” rhetoric on Tuesday as the reality television star hosted a fundraiser for the Republican while claiming again that President Barack Obama is foreign-born.

The debunked conspiracy theory among conservative activists dubbed “birthers” charges that Obama is not constitutionally qualified to serve in the White House. Romney has said he believes Obama was born in America, but he has not condemned Trump’s comments.

Democrats contend it’s the latest example of Romney’s reluctance to confront the more extreme elements in his party.

“A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate,” Trump told CNN of Obama’s birth certificate, just hours before he was set to host Romney’s finance event at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Romney has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe in any of this birther nonsense, but he knows his base, which still doesn’t like him much, appreciates boldness when they see it. And he was just borrowing some, in spite of the difficulties:

Trump’s comments, repeated in several media interviews Tuesday, overshadowed Romney’s visit to Nevada, one of a handful of swing states expected to decide the presidential contest in November. Trump also upstaged news from Texas that Romney had collected enough delegates to clinch the Republican presidential nomination.

You just need to be careful:

Romney did not address the issue directly at separate events in Colorado and Nevada, but on Monday night he told reporters aboard his campaign plane that Trump is entitled to his opinion. Even as Trump-related criticism from Democrats and Republicans intensified in recent days, Romney showed no sign of distancing himself from the polarizing figure.

“I don’t agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” Romney said. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”

But it wasn’t easy:

The Obama campaign released a video Tuesday criticizing what it considers Romney’s unwillingness to stand up to Trump and the more extreme elements in his party. There have been other examples in recent weeks that underscore Romney’s delicate push to win over skeptical conservatives while appealing to moderates and independents who generally deliver general election victories.

“Mitt Romney’s continued embrace of Donald Trump and refusal to condemn his disgraceful conspiracy theories demonstrates his complete lack of moral leadership,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement. “If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he’s so concerned about lining his campaign’s pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?”

And this was after the prissy conservative commentator George Will had said this:

“The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me. Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics. … I don’t understand the benefit. What is Romney seeking?”

What is Romney seeking? He’s seeking to be generally associated with boldness, to be in its general vicinity, as he knows he doesn’t do that sort of thing. And Slate’s Jon Dickerson thinks this may not matter much:

Romney is not running with Trump, so voters aren’t going to get sustained exposure to him. For Romney, Trump is a useful tool. As the Donald himself put it: “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” He says he’s noodling a super PAC, and he can raise money for Romney and gather together other people who can raise money. Romney certainly could never distance himself from Trump (let alone denounce him) for fear of alienating those donors the campaign is trying to reach by offering a dinner with the host of The Apprentice. Trump is probably popular with some of the working-class voters who cheer for a pugnacious loudmouth and whom Romney wants to attract. (That’s why Romney used Trump to put a knee to Rick Santorum’s groin with robocalls during the Michigan primary.) Elites who sniff at the Trump clown show were lost to Romney already.

So there was no real risk, although over at the Atlantic, David Graham adds more nuance:

Slipping in the polls and struggling to find its footing, the Obama campaign seems to think it has found the perfect foil to help them out: Donald Trump, the bizarrely bouffanted businessman. As Trump prepared to host a fundraiser for Romney in Las Vegas Tuesday, he renewed his ridiculous birther rhetoric. Last week, he told Lloyd Grove, “He didn’t know he was running for president, so he told the truth. The literary agent wrote down what he said… He said he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia… Now they’re saying it was a mistake.”

Needless to say, there is incontrovertible proof that Obama was born in Hawaii. Trump’s accusations are false, self-serving, and indefensible.

But Romney won’t condemn Trump’s comments and won’t definitively distance himself from them, being fairly clever about that:

The Romney campaign has approvingly cited comments made by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in the Hilary Rosen flap that a candidate can’t be held responsible for everything his supporters say. “I can’t speak for Donald Trump, Gloria, but I can tell you that Mitt Romney accepts that President Obama was born in the United States,” senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on Friday. (The Rosen comparison is fairly obviously disingenuous: While Rosen is an Obama supporter, she was not a high-profile endorser; she was not hosting fundraisers for the president; and her comments, while widely condemned, were contestable opinions but did not involve the intentional dissemination of outright falsehoods.)

But Team Obama trotted out the ghost of John McCain:

The Obama campaign is putting further pressure on Romney with the video above, released Tuesday, which contrasts him with John McCain, who in 2008 repeatedly denounced personal attacks against candidate Obama. The comparison with McCain may be instructive, but not for the reasons the Obama campaign intends. Yes, the Arizona senator would have denounced the attack. But as Politico reported, the Romney team is working to make sure it doesn’t suffer the fate of McCain’s campaign, adopting the following mantra: “Whatever McCain did, do the opposite.”

And Graham does see some cleverness here:

Strategists, elites, and cable news types disdain birtherism (for good reason!). And Romney himself has never embraced it. But voters? Although there has thankfully been less polling on the topic since the release of the birth certificate, birther beliefs appear to have remained resilient, barely ticking down in a January poll, for example. Folks who were willing to indulge silly ideas before remain willing to do so now. Without a groundswell of disapproval from Republican and independent voters, why should Romney bother to disavow Trump? McCain would have made the condemnation; the media would have oohed and aahed; and voters would still have voted for Obama. The Donald himself made this argument Tuesday, tweeting, “[Obama] keeps using @SenJohnMcCain as an example, however, @SenJohnMcCain lost the election. Don’t let it happen again.” For once, the man has a point.

And Mitt will be fine:

Trump bashers of all political stripes have often reacted incredulously to Romney’s intimacy with the mogul, even outside the context of birtherism. After all, is there a single undecided or Obama-leaning voter who will change his or her vote to Romney because an outlandish television celebrity tells them to? Surely not – but the same logic applies here. If voters are so inclined to disregard Trump, there’s no downside: his support won’t turn them off Romney, either. On the other side of the balance sheet, the cash that Romney collects at the Vegas fundraiser is perfectly legal tender that can feed the campaign coffers.

And it really was a matter of temperament. Romney wanted to borrow some of Trump’s – it’s just that it came with some baggage. And at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall addresses that:

My best guess is that they didn’t figure Trump would continue to be so nuts when they scheduled the mega-blowout fundraiser. And now that they’re here, they’re just figuring, whatever, let’s just get through tonight and it’ll be behind us.

The alternative is some high profile rebuke of Trump which is probably too frightening a prospect for the campaign.

And Trump might get so ticked off he starts, and fully funds, his own third-party run. The Donald can be very scary. If Romney even hints at edging away from Trump’s rather racist that-man-from-Kenya monomania, Trump will rip his throat out. The bully is in charge here, not the take-no-risk weakling. When you recruit a bully to your side, to fight for you, sometimes that bully can turn on you.

But see the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody:

Associating with Donald Trump gives Mitt Romney a way of being brash without being brash. Trump is popular with a certain portion of the GOP, the portion that Romney doesn’t connect with. Trump’s bravado is not necessarily a bad thing for Romney because it connects him to a flamethrower and his audience without having to throw the flames himself.

It’s just borrowing Trump’s temperament, and only his temperament – if that’s possible. What you say is reprehensible racist unhinged nonsense, likely to ruin the country, but I love your attitude?

But there really are only two kinds of people in the world, and you really can’t be what you’re not. Some people are just naturally thoughtful, and really ought to be allowed to embrace that. It takes all kinds. But such people aren’t Republicans these days. And this man was born too late. Only the one kind of person can lead that party now. But they didn’t nominate Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich or Santorum – and they’ll just have to make do with the careful man. But he is a conservative, for what that’s worth.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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