Would you hire this man?
Romney says he’s ‘evolved,’ but how many conversions does one candidate get?
By Barry Gordon 09/27/2012
In the business world, one rarely gets hired based solely on a resumé. Usually, there are a series of interviews or other direct, in-person tests of an applicant’s abilities and core competencies. In politics, that exercise is called a campaign. A presidential campaign affords a candidate an opportunity to demonstrate to the employer — the voters — an ability to communicate, anticipate problems and manage crises in a grueling test of physical and mental endurance for an extended period of time. Add to that an ability to speak knowledgeably on virtually any subject that may cross the president’s desk.
Much of being president is a never-ending exercise in saying and doing the right thing, because if you make one mistake, it can blow up in your face. In one sense, Mitt Romney seems to understand this. His watchword has been caution. So it’s fair to ask why this oh-so-careful man and his campaign have stepped on so many mines lately. It’s also fair to ask whether this man, resumé notwithstanding, has the skills to be President of the United States.
A president must be able to control the message, an area in which even a great communicator like President Obama has struggled. Part of that ability lies in consistency. Every politician should know it’s dangerous to say two different things to two different audiences, especially in the era of easily hidden microphones. On virtually every subject, candidate Romney’s views in 2012 can be contradicted by the Romney who ran for the US Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994 or by the Romney who ran for the Massachusetts governorship in 2002. Romney will tell us his positions have “evolved.” But to how many conversions is one person entitled?
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Romney tells audiences what he thinks they’d like to hear. A lack of consistency often suggests a lack of conviction. George W. Bush had a lot of faults, but inconsistency was not one of them.
Another core competency is the ability to anticipate problems. Such is the issue regarding the release of Mitt Romney’s tax returns. As others have pointed out, he would not be eligible for a cabinet post or most other high positions without a more extensive release of his financial information, including tax returns. By stonewalling in this way, he brings upon himself the inevitable speculation that he has something to hide. Romney has been running for political office since 1994. He probably has harbored presidential ambitions since at least that time, if not before. So why not pony up a few more million in taxes so that you can be assured nothing will come back to bite you? Which, by the way, is precisely what he did this year, actually overpaying so he could justify his claim that he never paid less than 13 percent in taxes. Too little, too late.
Because a president’s every word is dissected and analyzed, he (or she) must demonstrate an ability to be tactful in all situations. For example, after 9/11, Bush was careful to point out that the terrorists did not represent all Muslims, even at a time when anti-Muslim fervor was at its height in this country. But in a situation considerably less earthshaking, like a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, one might consider not making a disparaging remark about the cookies offered, saying that they came from “the local 7-Eleven bakery, or whatever,” when in fact they came from a famous bakery known for their cookies. And it’s certainly never the best idea to call almost half the population of the country “victims” who don’t take “personal responsibility.”
Romney showed the same lack of tact during a trip abroad intended to demonstrate his prowess as a world leader. It is possible to praise Israeli ingenuity and entrepreneurship without making a disparaging remark about the Palestinians and stating that “culture makes all the difference” in whether a nation achieves economic success, but not in Romneyland. In the same speech, he drew a similar contrast between Mexico and the United States, insulting our third largest trading partner.
Romney shows a lack of understanding of the issues that would confront him as president. Someone on his staff should have told him many of the 47 percent he ranted against are seniors on Social Security, students and veterans. And many of those are Republicans. Someone might have pointed out that, in regard to his comments about Iran giving Hezbollah fissile material for a dirty bomb, you don’t need fissile material for a dirty bomb. Someone might also have told him that a fundraiser may not be the best place to effectively abandon the two-state solution regarding Israel and Palestine that has been embraced by both parties for decades. What happened to Mister Smart Guy?
At some point, voters will need to ask one question: Has this campaign demonstrated that Romney has the skills to be president? So far, the answer would have to be “no.” And the clock is ticking. n
Barry Gordon is an adjunct professor at Cal State L.A.