Saturday, September 22, 2012

Introspection Needed

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and current columnist and pundit, had some pointed criticism of her party's presidential nominee on Tuesday.   She paid, as is her wont, homage to her first love, writing "Reagan in 1984 used to put out his hand: “Come too, come walk with me.” Come join, come help, whatever is happening in your life.'"  She believes, however, that Romney's campaign should recognize

The big issue—how we view government, what we want from it, what we need, what it rightly asks of us, what it wrongly demands of us—is a good and big and right and serious subject. It has to be dealt with seriously, at some length. And it is in part a cultural conversation. There’s a lot of grievance out there, and a sense of entitlement in many spheres. A lot of people don’t feel confident enough or capable enough to be taking part in the big national drama of Work in America. Why? What’s going on? That’s a conversation worth having.

I think there is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney’s hands. Today at a speech in New York with what seemed like many conservatives and Republicans in the audience, I said more or less the above. I wondered if anyone would say, in the Q&A, “I think you’ve got it wrong, you’re too pessimistic.” No one did. A woman asked me to talk about why in a year the Republicans couldn’t lose, the Republican candidate seems to be losing.

I said pre-mortems won’t help, if you want to help the more conservative candidate, it’s a better use of your time to pitch in with ideas. There’s seven weeks to go. This isn’t over, it’s possible to make things better.

Republicans are going to have to right this thing. They have to stabilize it.

It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one. It’s not big, it’s not brave, it’s not thoughtfully tackling great issues. It’s always been too small for the moment. All the activists, party supporters and big donors should be pushing for change. People want to focus on who at the top is least constructive and most responsible. Fine, but Mitt Romney is no puppet: He chooses who to listen to. An intervention is in order. “Mitt, this isn’t working..."

Romney doesn’t seem to be out there campaigning enough. He seems—in this he is exactly like the president—to always be disappearing into fund-raisers, and not having enough big public events.

But the logic of Romney’s fundraising has seemed, for some time, slightly crazy. He’s raising money so he can pile it in at the end, with ads. But at the end will they make much difference? Obama is said to have used a lot of his money early on, to paint a portrait of Romney as Thurston Howell III, as David Brooks put it. That was a gamble on Obama’s part: spend it now, pull ahead in the battlegrounds, once we pull ahead more money will come in because money follows winners, not losers.

If I’m seeing things right, that strategy is paying off.

Romney’s staff used to brag they had a lower burn rate, they were saving it up. For what? For the moment when Americans would rather poke out their eyeballs and stomp on the goo than listen to another ad?

Also, Mr. Romney’s ads are mostly boring. It’s kind of an achievement to be boring at a moment in history like this, so credit where it’s due: That musta taken effort!

When big, serious, thoughtful things must be said then big, serious, thoughtful speeches must be given. Mr. Romney is not good at press conferences. Maybe because he doesn’t give enough, and so hasn’t grown used to them, and confident.

He should stick to speeches, and they have to be big—where America is now, what we must do, how we can do it. He needs to address the Mideast too, because it isn’t going to go away as an issue and is adding a new layer of unease to the entire election. Luckily, Romney has access to some of the best writers and thinkers in the business. I say it that way because to write is to think, and Romney needs fresh writing and fresh thinking.

Two days later, Noonan followed it up with a column in which she again slammed Mitt Romney's campaign, this time asserting it needed someone like Reagan campaign manager (and anti-semite, by the way) James A. Baker III, who

broke up power centers while at the same time establishing clear lines of authority—and responsibility. When you screwed up, he let you know in one quick hurry. But most of all he had judgment. He delegated, and only the gifted were welcome: Bob Teeter, Dick Darman, Roger Ailes, Marlin Fitzwater. He didn't like hacks, he didn't get their point, and he knew one when he saw one.

A campaign is a communal exercise. It isn't about individual entrepreneurs. It's people pitching in together, aiming their high talents at one single objective: victory.
Mitt Romney needs to get his head screwed on right in this area. Maybe advice could come from someone in politics who awes him. If that isn't Jim Baker then Mitt Romney's not awe-able, which is a different kind of problem.

To Peggy Noonan, veteran Republican pollster and corporate strategist Steve Lombardo (whose views Noonan approvingly cites), and so many others, the problem is strategic and personal.    Romney, she says, "should be surrounded by the most persuasive, interesting, and articulate members," such as Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan, of his party.

Spare me.  Although the nominee isn't likable, the problem isn't personality.   Although Romney erred in allowing himself to be recorded denigrating almost half of Americans, the problem isn't strategic.  The problem is not the candidate- it is the candidate's party. CBS News reports

Senate Republicans blocked legislation Wednesday that would have established a $1 billion jobs program putting veterans back to work tending to the country's federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments.

Republicans said the spending authorized in the bill violated limits that Congress agreed to last year. Democrats fell two votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to waive the objection, forcing the legislation back to committee.   

Supporters loosely modeled their proposal after the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps used during the Great Depression to put people to work planting trees, building parks and constructing dams. They said the latest monthly jobs report, showing a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, merited action from Congress.

The vote came on a proposal to waive a procedural rule obstructing passage of the legislation, dubbed the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2011.   While every Democrat supported the measure, all but five Republicans opposed it.   They expressed concern over "politics" (I'm shocked, shocked, to find that politics is going on in here!), the budgetary impact, or that Senate rules would be put aside for passage, a common Senate practice.  Further, bill sponsor Patty Murray of Washington State stated that the program, according to a New York Times editorial, would be financed by "recovering more money from delinquent Medicare providers and forcing tax deadbeats to pay up before receiving passports."

One would expect a little more from a party than to express undying loyalty to "the troops" and then voting against them when it gets a chance.   Or maybe not, given its unofficial slogan has become the chant of "USA! USA!," especially when drowning out Americans expressing a contrary point of view.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars," Cassius (not this one) said in Julius Caesar.   Mitt Romney's problem is neither him, nor in messaging, but in the policies and actions of the party, circa 2012, he represents.

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