The Good Mitt could be the next president of the United States. The Bad Mitt won’t make it past Super Tuesday. The problem for Romney is that he just can’t decide which Mitt he wants to be.
I found both Mitts while reading his obligatory pre-campaign book, “No Apology,” with the lapel-pin subtitle, “Believe in America.”
Steven Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist at The Washington Post.
Despite what you might think from the title, the book doesn’t have anything to do with explaining why Mitt once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped on the roof or why the former governor helped create a mandatory health-care plan for Massachusetts that looks very much like the Obama plan he now vows to repeal.
Rather, it’s meant to be a dig at President Obama and other Democrats who, he asserts with very little evidence, don’t believe in free markets, free enterprise and free trade — or freedom of any kind for that matter. It’s a sneaky way of accusing people who don’t agree with him of having so little faith in America that they’re constantly apologizing for it, from which we are meant to conclude that they don’t love America as much as Mitt and the Republicans. This is the Bad Mitt talking.
Then there is the Good Mitt, the Mitt who graduated from Harvard Business School and was a successful strategy consultant and private-equity investor. This Mitt writes thoughtfully about productivity and entrepreneurship and innovation — about how they thrive in an environment of limited government, low taxes, free trade and open competition and how they can be hampered by special interests that try to slow or subvert the sometimes painful process of creative destruction.
The Good Mitt has a firm grasp of what’s wrong with the current health-care system, acknowledges the culpability of Wall Street and the private sector in causing the financial crisis, and even admonishes fellow Republicans for being “overly fond of bashing regulation as the constant enemy of growth and competition.” While I surely don’t agree with all his analysis and many of his prescriptions, in terms of knowledge and sophistication about business and economics, he’s near the top of the Republican class.
But just when you’re beginning to think maybe you’ve misjudged the guy, the Bad Mitt jumps in and grabs the keyboard. Suddenly we’re asked to believe that less than 10 percent of the Obama stimulus funds created any jobs in the private sector, as if the money that goes to pay the salaries of state workers or finance public works projects winds up in a black hole rather than circulating through the economy.
According to the Bad Mitt, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been “opaque” and “heavy-handed” in managing financial rescue funds while his Republican predecessor, Hank Paulson — the man who organized the first tranche of the auto bailout, forced banks to take bailout funds some of them didn’t want, and insisted on paying off every last one of AIG’s creditors and counterparties while refusing to disclose their names — was a hero who saved the financial system. This revisionist history is contradicted by every account of the crisis published so far.