Most of all, this lack of authenticity manifests itself in his reinvention from centrist and pragmatic Massachusetts Republican into a dogmatic social and economic conservative, totally disavowing explicit positions on abortion, gay rights, immigration, the bank bailout, environmental regulation and, of course, the health reform in Massachusetts that was once his signature political achievement. On the Romney political compass, it turns out that there is no True North.
Phony is the word that keeps coming to mind. Here’s a guy who tries to pass himself off to gun owners as a lifelong hunter because of a handful of outings. To show voters that he’s just a regular guy, he shows up without a hair out of place in casual clothes with freshly pressed creases. Even his boast about his entrepreneurial risk-taking turns out to be a stretch: According to biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, Romney was promised that if things didn’t work out with Bain Capital, he could get his old job back at Bain Consulting, including all the raises and bonuses he would have received and a cover story to paper over any hint of failure.
Steven Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist at The Washington Post.
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A passion for a cause outside of his own ambition? What was striking about Romney’s acceptance speech last month was that he couldn’t articulate one that was even remotely convincing. Instead, this son of a wealthy industrialist with law and business degrees from Harvard tried to pass himself off as the striving son of a penniless Mexican immigrant whose lifelong passion has been to ensure that others will have the chance to realize the American dream. Oh, and yes, Romney also wanted us to know that he really, really wanted President Obama to succeed in office and, like other Americans, is heartbroken that he hasn’t.
One reason government works in America is because 95 percent of Americans pay pretty much what they think they owe in taxes. But in Romney we have a presidential candidate who hides hundreds of million of dollars in overseas havens that make it possible for him to avoid paying the same taxes as if he had kept his money at home. It’s all perfectly legal, but that hardly makes it right or ethical. What kind of example does that set for the country he now thinks he is entitled to lead?
Despite his obvious intelligence, self-discipline and managerial ability, by any honest measure Mitt Romney fails the leadership test.
The same cannot be said of President Obama. Whether you subscribe to them or not, he has a vision, a set of core values, a passion for a cause beyond himself. These were all outlined in his best-selling books, articulated in his campaign and embraced once in office. As president, he has sometimes shown courage and persistence in pursuing unpopular initiatives, along with that boldness that sometimes borders on narcissism. His empathy for people seems genuine. His public persona seems authentic and well-integrated with who he really is.
I would argue that it was this leadership potential, more than any national consensus around his policies, that explains why Obama was elected in the first place — that, along with the managerial talent and strategic sense to run a brilliant campaign. Since then, he has strengthened his leadership bona fides by pushing through a giant economic stimulus bill, a rescue of the auto industry, sweeping health-care and financial regulatory reforms, along with ending the war in Iraq — all of it in the face of obstinate Republican opposition in Congress.