Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Viewing the Same Thing, Seeing Different Things

My son Political Sphere and I stayed up way too late on Monday night (Tuesday morning by the time we started), to watch the Tampa debate. There was a question, about three-fourths into the debate, to Mitt Romney, and then to Newt Gingrich, on what each has contributed to conservatism.

If I were to come up with a dream list, it would include actions that support all three layers of the Spherical Model: civilization, free enterprise, and political freedom as guaranteed in the US Constitution. For civilization, there should be a demonstration of devotion to God, the grantor of our rights, by obedience to His laws, particularly including strengthening the family and valuing life.
For free enterprise there should be a demonstration that private choices should be made by the people making the money, not some distant central decision maker. Urge low taxes and spending cuts to live on less outgo than income. Know how free enterprise makes jobs and builds wealth, and understand how to keep government from interfering.
For freedom, understand and value the Constitution as the way to freedom, demonstrated by a record of words and actions supporting limited and divided powers of the federal government and specific support of the Bill of Rights.
Here is Romney’s answer:
Well, number one, I’ve raised a family. With my wife we’ve raised five wonderful sons, and we have 16 wonderful grandkids.
Number two, I’ve worked in the private sector. The idea that somehow everything important for conservatism or for America happens in government, is simply wrong. I’ve been in the private sector. I worked in one business that was in trouble and helped turn it around, another I started. And as part of that, we were able to create thousands and thousands of jobs.
And then I took an opportunity to become governor of a state that was slightly Democrat. About 85 percent of my legislature was Democrat. And I worked very hard to promote a conservative agenda. We cut taxes 19 times. We balanced the budget every year, put in place a “rainy day” fund of over $2 billion by the time I left. We were also successful in having English immersion in our schools, driving our schools to be number one in the nation.
That kind of a conservative model in a state like Massachusetts was a model in many respects that other states could look at and say, okay, conservative principles work. We were able to reach across the aisle to fight for conservative principles, and now I’m taking that to a presidential campaign, wrote a book about those principles that lay out why I believe they’re right for America.
I said to Political Sphere at the time, “That was a really good answer.” So I was surprised that the follow up commentary singled that out as a particularly weak answer. At first I thought that was just because the commentators are liberal and have a hard time understanding conservative principles, so they have a perception gap. But the next day I came across several conservative commentators who called it a weak answer; all of them clipped it at the first paragraph, on family. Since I see the civilization sphere as a base for the economic and political spheres to be able to thrive, and since the family is the basic unit of civilization, success in a family is important. It’s also not easy, and Romney’s family is exceptional—in direct contrast to the failure of Gingrich in the family, who failed at the very moment of claiming he understood the concepts. Living a civilized life is the only way to lead people to civilization. You can’t lead by standing on an alternate path and say, “All you people go that way.”
So I understood that Romney started with what was indeed a core conservative principle. And then he continued, listing significant business executive leadership—almost unparalleled in the business world and certainly unparalleled among the candidates. Then he referred to his political record, governing successfully, implementing conservative economic and social principles that led to success that shows in the public record.

In that limited time, he didn’t even include the boost he gave America by keeping the Olympics alive and removing much of the stain of scandal that had plagued the committee; he was hired specifically because practically no one else could have come from such deep problems and break even, and he did more; the 2002 Winter Olympics were a huge success.

Then he didn’t mention what he’s been doing lately. Maybe that’s because it gets dismissed as just more campaigning. But with no decision made about whether he would ever run for any public office again, when he stepped out of the race in 2008, he didn’t go home and rest; he went on the campaign trail for every conservative he could help. He spoke at campaign rallies; he raised funding; he gave donations. And the basic reason was that he wanted to help save America. It might have been awkward to say that himself, but those close to him over the decades show him to be the decent, positive man of integrity he would like you to see. It isn’t a fa├žade; it’s real.
So I saw a strong answer. No hesitation. A long list, without notes or teleprompter. But the media reaction is that he was particularly unprepared on that answer. Hugh Hewitt, radio host who wrote about Romney four years ago, was an exception; he thought it was a good answer, but admitted it could have been stronger.
Then there was Gingrich’s answer. I didn’t hear much commentary about it afterward, but I saw it as an exaggeration, symbolic only, and taking credit where it was not due:
 I went to a Goldwater organizing session in 1964. I met with Ronald Reagan for the first time in 1974. I worked with Jack Kemp and Art Laffer and others to develop supply-side economics in the late ’70s. I helped Governor Reagan become President Reagan. I helped pass the Reagan economic program, and I worked with the National Security Council on issues involving the collapse of the Soviet Empire. I then came back, organized a group called GOPAC, spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954, the first reelected majority since 1928, developed the Conservative Opportunity Society, talked about big ideas, big solutions.
So I think it’s fair to say I spent most of my lifetime trying to develop a conservative movement across this country that relates directly to what we have to do. And I think only a  genuine conservative who’s in a position to debate Obama and to show how wide the gap is between Obama’s policies and conservatism can in fact win, because he’s gonna spend a billion dollars trying to smear whoever the nominee is, and we’d better be prepared to beat him in the debate and prove exactly how wrong his values are, and how wrong his practices are.
Gingrich may have gone to a Goldwater rally in 1964, but in 1968 he was the southern regional director for the Rockefeller campaign. He may have met Reagan in 1974, but who knows whether Reagan took notice of him then.  Gingrich ran his first campaign for congress from Georgia that year, and lost to the incumbent (and lost again in 1976 before winning in 1978). So is it likely he had a private advising session with California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1974, or just a meet and greet? And the likelihood that he was the idea guy behind economist Art Laffer’s theories is about as likely as Al Gore inventing the internet. (I’ll take that back if Art Laffer comes out and says, “Oh, yes, I couldn’t have come up with conservative economic ideas without Newt Gingrich.”)
Did Gingrich work successfully to bring a GOP majority to the US Congress? Yes, which is why he became speaker. (Do we need to add here that GOP doesn’t always translate to conservative, but can also be just the less liberal alternative to the Democrat Party?) And while that Congress kept its Contract with America by voting on its list of issues in the first 100 days, that didn’t mean everything passed, nor that they had any success in getting passed by the Democrat majority Senate or signed by the Democrat President. Big ideas, strong efforts, but not particularly notable results. And then the ethics and moral violations that led to his stepping down in disgrace were the antithesis of conservative ideals. When he had the opportunity to lead, his character failed him. Yet, instead of humility, we see braggadocio.  

Here is what I want, and what I pray for: that the people in this country, including myself, will see the truth—truth of who the candidates are (including Obama) and what they can and will do for our struggling nation—so that the decision of where we end up will be the result of clear decisions and not deceit. It’s possible that I see Romney positively because I want to, because I want what I picture he can offer. And it may be that Gingrich is a better man than he appears to me, because he has gone through a character change not visible to me. So I am continuing to look.
But I am paying attention and trying to discern the truth. But my country’s future depends on the decisions of millions of other American voters. So I pray that somehow truth will be evident to all of us.

                                                                                                             

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