What we do not know is whether Gov. Romney was expressing a long-held point of view or, knowing what that audience wanted to hear, was just talking as if he was one of them.
Further, was the Mitt Romney on the stage in Denver the same man as the speaker at the private fund-raiser in Florida or some other Mitt Romney? This much is certain: A presidential debate before millions of viewers is the last place to find the key that unlocks access to the inner man, the one true Mitt Romney.
His character and views have been blurred by so many instances of his staking-out firm views on a given subject as governor of Massachusetts and then just as firmly stating the opposite view during the GOP primaries, a pattern of reversals that continued in the debate.
As The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson put it in a pre-debate column about the (at least) two Romneys, “One … wants to repeal Obamacare, one … invented it. One opposed the bailout of the auto industry; one takes credit for it. One doubts the scientific evidence of climate change; one believes in it. One wants to ‘voucherize’ Medicare; one wants to save it. One dismisses nearly half of Americans as a bunch of moochers, and one claims to champion the struggling middle class.”
And on and on from abortion to gun control the contradictions go …
Reciting only the contradictions leads to a surface impression of “opportunism.” But the search for the real Romney must go on. A good place to look is Nicholas Lemann’s long profile of the candidate in The New Yorker.
From Lemann’s extensive interviews it is clear that near the peak of his value system is his Mormon religion in which he ranks as one of a small elite that is driven to achieve academically and in business.
A combination of faith, real-world practicality and the Mormon experience drives the success orientation. The Mormon story resembles the Jewish saga in some respects. They have known discrimination and scorn; they had been driven from state to state and suffered the murder of their leader until they finally came to rest in the isolated state of Utah.
Achievement to them meant safety, the power to defend the faith against those who would seek to destroy it. Higher learning also gets the faithful closer to God, as another of Romney’s elite circle explained.
Most religions believe in God as being outside the universe and created everything. “Latter-day Saints believe that God is in the universe and his power comes from understanding the rules of the universe perfectly. Everything we learn is so strong because it helps us to become more like God.”
Romney is certainly one of the achievers. He enrolled simultaneously in Harvard Law School and the Graduate School of Business. He learned well, making millions as a consultant and doing private-equity deals.
Obeying his father’s admonition that “nothing is as vulnerable as entrenched success,” at Bain Capital it was fascinating to watch Romney take an established company apart, rearrange its pieces, add a complementary component and create a shiny, new, thriving company.
Bain had other success stories, but as one business school private-equity professor says, “It’s not the job of private equity to create jobs. The job is to create value. That sometimes creates jobs. Sometimes not.”
A businessman in politics after his adored father, George, chairman of American Motors and governor of Michigan, Mitt has met with success and failure. Disgusted by tales of Kennedy carousing, Romney in 1994 ran a kind of moral crusade against the charismatic Ted Kennedy for the Senate and lost soundly.
Romney seems to equate a lack of personal discipline (think the 47 percent) with liberalism. A friend, Clayton Christensen, explains: “People who run against him are liberal in the sense that they vote for legislation that takes money out of one person’ s pocket and puts it in another person’s pocket, and they’re compassionate?”
If there has been class warfare since the 1980s, the liberals have lost. A 2011 study by the Congressional Budget Office shows money has been put in the pockets of the top earning 1 percent who gained about 275 percent.
Where is the real Mitt Romany in all of this? I don’t know. You’d be lucky to have him for a friend who would give good financial advice or come over and help you put stain resistant on the kitchen floor. Really. He did that.
My guess is that in there is a decent man, a touch messianic but who has some practical ideas he can’t express because it would drive the tea party crazy. He shows the strain of a racehorse whose jockey is pulling back on the reins.
He’d be just the man to take a big department like Homeland Security apart and put it back together as a new, more-functional entity.
But how can a man so conflicted, closed and restrained as president express the nation’s hopes and aspirations and inspire confidence in his leadership? I don’t see how he can; good man but wrong job.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.