There are two myths about Mitt Romney that are curious. One is that he is a "really extreme extremist." But in reality, if you look at the entirety of his career, Romney may be the most moderate Republican nominee since Jerry Ford. While Romney has moved to the right over time, Romney, to steal from Jonah Goldberg, speaks conservative as a second language. There is no doubt that he is not a movement conservative. Of course, we hear over and over how the Republicans have been captured by the radicals. There is no doubt the party has moved right over the last three decades. But let's look at all Republican presidential nominees since Reagan. George H.W. Bush was no movement conservative nor was Bob Dole. Let's not forget that Bush I called supply-side economics "voodoo economics" and Dole once joked that a bus full of supply-side economists fell off a cliff, and it was a tragedy because one lived. John McCain, "the maverick," has made a career out of driving conservatives nuts. Only George W. Bush can plausibly be seen as a real movement conservative. But even Bush II signed into law No Child Left Behind, hugely expanding the federal commitment to education, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a large new entitlement. This is why conservatives, outside of Bush's tax cuts, were largely tepid towards his domestic policy (and some, like George Will, William Buckley and the entirety of the American Conservative, disliked his foreign policy as well). Romney is well within the tradition of Bush I, Dole and McCain. He is a pragmatic (even squishy) conservative, certainly no ideologue.
Then there is Romney the plutocrat. This is, oddly, the stranger accusation. If elected, Romney would not be the richest president ever. According to Forbes, Romney would be behind (in order, and controlling for inflation) Washington, Jefferson, and Hoover. As Meatloaf said, two out of three ain't bad. So why the envy towards Romney, whose fortune is well short of Washington's? According to Forbes, if John Kennedy would have lived to inherit his father's wealth, it is likely his wealth would have exceeded that of Romney. And of course John Kerry, who just narrowly missed becoming president, is worth about two and a half times what Romney is worth. There is one difference, though. Romney earned nearly every penny he has (you might recall that he gave the entirety of his inheritence from his father to Brigham Young University). John Kerry inherited or married into almost all of his wealth. Obviously Romney is very wealthy, but the focus on his wealth seems oddly out of proportion. His crime appears to be that he is a Republican who made his money, not a Democrat who inherited it, as did Kerry and the Kennedys.
Also, by almost all accounts, Mitt Romney is an uncommonly decent man. I am not just talking about that fact that he gave about 4x as a high a percentage of his income to charity last year as did Barack Obama. Let's be honest, even though he is going way beyond tithing, he can afford it. But look at all the accounts of his life. He did take the time to go on Mormon mission. The reviews of his time as a Mormon bishop are largely (but not universally) positive. Just look here and here. These news stories depict various examples of a decency and warmness to his fellow man that are striking. How about two examples:
Ted Oparowski, a retired firefighter, and his wife, Pat, a secretary, still praise Mr. Romney for ministering to their 14-year-old son, David, who was dying of cancer three decades ago.This does not count the well told story of Romney personally overseeing the search for the daughter of a Bain Capital employee who had gone missing in New York. Imagine Mitt Romney going to rave parties showing the young woman's picture. Because that's what Romney did and it worked. And by now many know that Romney and one of his sons literally saved a family from drowning.
The boy, upon hearing that Mr. Romney was a lawyer, asked him to help draft a will, so that he might leave something to each of his friends. Mr. Romney pulled out a legal pad, and together they wrote one up. Later, he gave the eulogy at the boy’s funeral....When Clayton Christensen, a Harvard business professor, and his wife, Christine, felt overwhelmed by church obligations, Mr. Romney showed up unexpectedly at the door. With three young children, Mr. Christensen was in charge of missionary work; his wife ran the relief society, ministering to Boston’s poor.
“He said, ‘I was just driving home from work, and I had a feeling that I needed to stop by and tell you that God loves you.’ ” Mr. Christensen was so moved, he recalled, that he wept.
Compare this with Barack Obama. According to Game Change co-author John Heilemann, "I don’t think [Obama] doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people." Or take Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, quoting a Democrat "in the know":
The truth, he added, “is that Obama doesn’t really like very many people.” He ticked off the names of some of Obama’s longtime friends: the Whitakers, the Nesbitts, Valerie Jarrett. “And he likes to talk about sports. But other than that he just doesn’t like very many people.”
I heard a podcast some time ago with the New York Times' David Brooks, an Obama supporter in 2008. Brooks, who has met Obama many times, says that Obama is the most self-confident man he has ever met and takes it personally if anyone disagrees with him. And of course Obama famously said:
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
Granted, anyone who is president is going to have an ego. But Obama seems to have an almost pathologically inflated sense of his own awesomeness. This is a problem because, if I may quote Dirty Harry (not an Obama supporter), "A man's got to know his limitations." As the New York Times reports, "But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities." And one can barely imagine Obama engaging in acts of personal warmness and kindness that appear to have defined Mitt Romney's life.
Of course, if you prefer Mr. Obama's politics, none of this matters. Likewise with Mr. Romney. As George Will recently stated, we are chosing a president, not a buddy. But perhaps it is time to rethink our myths of Romney the Cold Fish and Obama the Healer of All Wounds.