“Americans have a choice,” Mitt Romney said Thursday night at the Republican National Convention. “To make that choice, you need to know more about me and about where I will lead our country.”
By that standard, Romney fell very short. He spoke a lot more than usual about his background, but he did little to clarify to voters what he would do as president.
He began by contrasting the absurd exuberance of Obama’s hope-change campaign in 2008 with the sour economy of Obama’s first term. Romney then described his life and accomplishments — nothing about the individual mandate in Massachusetts, mind you — including an account of how he created the fantastically successful Bain Capital. This was the best part of Romney’s speech: detailed and indicative of values beyond mere political ambition and of abilities other than being able to pander to the GOP base. Romney’s greatest appeals are his talent, tenacity and resulting success. How would he apply those to running the government?
Instead of answering that question, he stuck to his usual, vague policy script, spending fewer than 300 of 4,000 words on his jobs plan, which unrealistically promises lower taxes, a balanced budget and energy independence, while leaving out any sense that any of these might be hard to achieve, particularly at the same time. What’s more important, balancing the budget or cutting taxes? What kinds of social programs or middle-class tax privileges deserve to stay — and which kinds should go in order to reduce spending? What takes precedence, achieving energy independence or keeping energy costs down? (The two aren’t the same.) Instead of acknowledging that being president might involve tough choices, Romney again made it seem as though all that’s needed is someone in the Oval Office willing to hit the “fix everything now” button, and then he moved on.
Major campaign speeches express, among other things, a campaign’s priorities. The Romney campaign chose to shore up the candidate’s personal appeal rather than delve into the substance of his presidential run. That might work politically. But it leaves us no closer to knowing where he will lead our country.