Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mitt Romney’s bland punch

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney doesn’t try to appeal to the Republican base by saying things true-believers don’t say to strangers. Nevertheless he’s appealing to the same bedrock Republican sentiments. Romney’s speech last week at the rusty Allentown Metal Works factory in Pennsylvania deserves respect as a work of smooth partisan warfare. If the following few assertions take hold, he could win the presidency:

"This president came here and called this a symbol of hope," said Romney, standing in jeans and a plaid shirt in the overgrown parking lot. "It is a symbol of failure, failure of his economic policy. He's out of his depth. When it comes to getting the economy going, it's just not something he understands."

Romney frames the next election in strictly partisan terms—for the enjoyment of Republicans and for the ear of independents. He goes for Obama’s throat without using the wild rhetoric that has traced Obama’s comet for the last three years. Let’s look at its key messages.

First, Obama’s “hope” campaign.  This reference isn’t in the speech just to express bitter empathy towards those in Allentown who are still without jobs. He’s summing up a highly colored narrative of the election of 2008: Obama promised hope, millions of innocent Americans fell for it, and soon everything got worse. This story pleases many Republicans who still believe that Obama won illegitimately, bewitching do-gooders and tricking independents. Also, it could make it easier for switchers to kick Obama and not themselves.

(“Hope,” in fact, was principally an Obama message to Democrat in the primaries: that by participating in politics they could finally beat the Republicans. In the general election, his appeal grew as fear rose and the Republican candidate daily looked less competent.)

Second, Obama’s failed “economic policy.” This rather bloodless term, of course, means to do serious harm. Romney concentrates on people’s economic frustrations but will not get emotional. He’ll eventually have to outline a comprehensive policy of his own. He will want it portrayed as the work of a serious professional, not just the slogans of another partisan opportunist who calls Obama silly names. His audiences, of course, are free to infer that Obama’s inspiration is “European” and “extreme left-wing.”They and the supporters of his more extreme Republican opponents are sufficiently motivated to support energetically a Romney presidential ticket, whether emotionally rewarding or not.

(None of the multi-millionaires running for the Republican nomination will call Obama a “socialist.”  They’ve done far too well personally during the Obama “coup d’état.”)   

Third, Obama’s lack of “understanding.” This one you have to love; it’s pure mischief. It appeals to every reactionary sentiment in the land and is exquisitely presidential as well. It would be stupid to say Obama is stupid or poorly educated or unread or unable to benefit from the company of serious people and their expertise. It would be passé to say he’s an alien or even an ideologue. However, whatever cool things Obama does they can still say that there are some things Obama just can’t “understand.”

Sure, he can talk to billionaires and great capitalists. He can even serve their interests and possibly get them to do things. However, he can’t fathom the magic of running a boisterous American economy. That’s talent is bread in the bone—in Romney’s bones for sure.

Imagine using that shot against a Harvard man like Kennedy, Hollywood’s Reagan or such good times economic stars as General Eisenhower. Again, Obama is different.  

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