John Y.’s First Defense
[John Y.’s Provocation; The RP’s Rebuttal #1; Ron Granieri’s Rebuttal #2; Rod Jetton’s Rebuttal #3; Krystal Ball’s Rebuttal #4]
Great commentary and insights and I feel the Alpha-male urge to jump in and defend my original point. No sucker punches. Promise. But possibly some territorial markings.
First, Rod, please forgive my depth and seeming over-analysis. I try not to reflect in mixed political company because it’s bad manners. Reflectiveness, I feel, is the liberal counter-point to Republican toughness. George Bush II, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Cheney and much of the Republican leadership class for the past decade ran the electoral tables with the tough guy brand. By contrast, we Democrats fought back with candidates that promised to out-reflect and out-analyze their republican opponents. This Democratic approach has not worked well electorally.
In fact, it was observing Republican campaign tactics over the past couple of decades that led me to conclude the key to electability isn’t an intellectual exercise or the sum and substance of a campaign platform — but rather a successful visceral appeal. And that Democrats needed to find a way to connect with voters in a more raw and basic way than reeling off data and exuding likability.
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The RPs Debate Presidential Leadership: John Y. Defends
Rebuttal #4: Krystal Ball
I want to start where Rod’s insightful and very honest post
(particularly for someone who worked for the candidate!) left off. Rod said he wished Romney would “walk into a room with his hair messed up in a t-shirt and jeans grab the mike and say, ‘I’m a heck of a good businessman and I’m going to kick Obamas butt and fix this country. You can either get on board my train or I’m running you over!’”
Rod’s right. This is exactly what Republican voters want to hear this year. Unfortunately for Governor Romney, it’s also exactly the kind of line that with or without actual swearing, Romney is completely incapable of delivering in a non-cringeworthy way. Mitt’s problems have less to do with the ins and outs of his flip-flops and more to do with the fact that those flip-flops feed the narrative of what everyone suspects: Romney is a privileged, out of touch, overly ambitious guy whose positions are poll-tested and designed to reflect what the electorate wants to hear, not what Romney actually believes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they suspect he holds no core beliefs. Jeff described Romney as “perfect.” Voters don’t see perfect though, they see too good to be true.
The fact that Mitt doesn’t share the religion of the vast majority of Republican primary voters is also not the problem per se. The problem is that Governor Romney’s religion feeds another narrative that voters suspect is true of Romney: that he’s fundamentally unlike you and your neighbors. You can’t relate to him and he can’t relate to you. How can you trust this guy to get what your family is going through when he seems so unlike you? How can you trust him to fight for you?
Machiavelli says that it is critical for leaders to be either feared or loved and between the two, it’s better to be feared. In America though, I think we prefer to have something like 3 parts love to 2 parts fear in our Presidents. Obama, even now with the initial luster worn off his persona, is loved by his base. But he has another side that’s on display when he says: “Ask Osama Bin Laden if I engage in appeasement.” George W. Bush, Clinton, and Reagan all were loved and feared. In fact over the past several decades, I would argue that the two one-term Presidents, Carter and Bush 41, failed to win reelection because they were neither really loved nor really feared. Could America love Romney? Fear him?
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The RPs Debate Presidential Leadership: Krystal Ball Rebuts
Rebuttal #3: Rod Jetton
John Y’s post
was deep. All the psychological stuff is a bit too touchy feely for this Marine. I don’t know if he was a psychology minor in college or if his wife has him watching too many chick flicks. Either way, it was too deep for me. But as I think back to comments from the important women in my life, maybe I need to learn from John Y. or watch more chick flicks.
That being said, I agree with the RP
and think analyzing Romney’s problems with Republican voters is much easier. I ran Romney’s 2008 Missouri campaign and I’m still pulling for him, but he has two basic problems.
First, he is a Mormon. I know it’s not politically correct (PC) to admit that a candidate’s religion can hurt them, but reality pays no attention to PC. There are many evangelicals who have a major problem with Mormons. They like the family values, but they have a serious mistrust of the Mormon faith. Evangelicals are a important part of most Republican primaries. Iowa is a good example both in 2004 and 2008.
His second problem are his flip flops. Politics is a crazy business and most successful politicians massage their views depending on the situation or audience. The Internet has made it harder than it used to be, but each week we hear about some comment a politician made at a fundraiser or event that rubs the other party and Independents the wrong way.
Romney’s problem is he has changed his mind on some really important and big issues for Republicans. The top 2 are probably abortion and gun control, but the health care issue ranks up at the top as well.
Most realistic political observers realizes that to win a Governor’s race in Massachusetts as a Republican, a candidate has to be a bit more moderate. But we all know that the most hardcore primary voters in each party are anything but realistic. When running for Governor, Romney took some moderate stands that helped him win and later govern. That was then, but the presidential primary is now, and those past views are not helpful today.
Rebuttal #2: Ronald J. Granieri
I have a few somewhat related thoughts in response to what has been said so far.
[Read John Y.’s Provocation]
[Read the RP’s Rebuttal]
We need to fight against the persistent myth that being universally respected and loved is the essence of leadership. Obama’s real or feigned belief that he could triumph over all disagreement and be adored by being adorable was doomed from the start. Doomed for the simple reason that making policy means dealing with disagreement. We all want to believe that the positions we take on issues are so self-evidently reasonable that any honest and rational person HAS to agree with us. But that is just a convenient and comforting fiction. More than that, it is also a backhanded way to belittle and insult people who think differently than we do by dismissing them as either stupid or mean-spirited or both.
There are many possible answers to any policy question, and (at the risk of sounding more like a relativist than I am) many of them can be right at the moment. Only in retrospect can we say for certainty what worked and what did not. In the meantime, we will disagree. And that is a good thing, because disagreement is the life blood of a competitive electoral system. It is pure folly to believe that you will get your way because your opponents like you. You get your way by taking clear positions and defending them within the existing system. (Though of course the system itself needs to function properly—that’s my shout out to No Lablesl!) You need to show what you believe, and what you are willing to do in pursuit of those beliefs, not wait for other people to agree with you before you take a position. Your opponents will criticize you no matter what you do (they will call you weak when you defer, and arrogant when you push forward), so why surrender pre-emptively? It is risky to take positions, but there is no reward without risk. True leaders take risks.
This myth of being universally loved is fostered by the hagiographies that come after a famous politician dies. The best example here is President Reagan. Upon his death all we have heard is how terrific he was, and both media personalities and politicians of all stripes have downplayed the controversies of the Reagan era. Frankly, that is an insult to his memory and to anyone with actual historical sense. For all his sunny optimism, Reagan was intensely controversial, and neither his fans nor his detractors do him justice by pretending he was not. Indeed, his opponents often hated him most of all because he was so goddam genial. He pushed hard for things he wanted, made compromises when he thought it made sense to do so, but he did not shy away from decisions in hopes that his opponents would agree with him before he made a move. Anyone who lived through the 1980s knows what the political debates of those years were like.
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The RPs Debate Presidential Leadership: Ron Granieri Rebuts