Mitt Romney Is a Big Government Conservative

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney capped off a day of fundraising in New York recently with an event at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Manhattan.  I attended the pre-dinner cocktail reception, at which Romney gave the short version of his standard stump speech.  There were about two hundred people at the reception.  After a brief introduction by former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (1991-1997), during which Weld said that Romney was "the best I've ever seen" and a "Republican Jack Kennedy," Romney spoke for about 15 minutes.

The main theme of Romney's speech was the need for greater efficiency and accountability in government, which he claims he will be able to accomplish due to his significant private sector experience.  This is the same theme he emphasized during his keynote speech at the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit in January.  To hammer home this theme, Romney amusingly criticized the Democratic front-runners -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- for never having "run a corner store, let alone a large enterprise."  As Romney aptly stated:  "The presidency is not an internship job."  These were good jabs.

Significantly, Romney's message is not one about shrinking the size of government.  Indeed, he illustrated his approach with a story about funding for homeless services in Massachusetts.  After he became governor in 2002, Romney noticed a $30 million budget item to provide hotel rooms for homeless people when the existing shelters were full.  Romney instituted a new set of procedures for allocating bed space that largely eliminated this expenditure.  But instead of returning the saved money to the taxpayers, Romney stated that they were able to use the money for other, more important services.  As Romney explained, "efficiency is desperately needed" -- not that the size of government needs to be reduced.

On this point, there is nothing Reaganesque about Romney's message.  Romney clearly will be a "big government conservative" just like President Bush.  Perhaps he will be a better manager than President Bush -- although the analogy between serving as a corporate or nonprofit CEO and serving as President of the United States is strained at best -- but he will have to contend with a hostile and intransigent Congress and bureaucracy that will oppose any serious effort to bring "business management principles" to the operations of government.

Romney then rattled off his "we have got to" list.  In keeping with his business theme, the first item he mentioned was responding to the economic challenge from China.  He did not explain what it is about this challenge that threatens the United States (e.g., the trade deficit, erosion of our domestic manufacturing base, the expansion of the Chinese military, etc.).  He simply stated that "we have got to" improve our education system and our "technological investments," or we will fall behind and lose our superpower status.  Romney did not offer a single specific policy proposal.  But the message I came away with is of a top-down, government-led effort in these areas.  No mention of decentralized decisionmaking, school choice, investment tax credits, and the like.  Romney's message sounds just like the Clinton/Gore message of 1992.

Romney then addressed, in his own very awkward phrase, the "attack of the jihad."  How this could be a lesser priority than economic competition from China, I don't understand, and Romney did not explain.  Romney listed a number of "reforms" we need to help implement, including strengthening "moderate" governments within the Muslim world (which he did not identify), encouraging the "rule of law" (an empty phrase, when one considers that sharia is "law"), encouraging growth-oriented economic policies, and spreading education among the Muslim masses -- while at the same time ensuring that such education is not conducted through Wahhabi institutions.  Again, Romney did not offer a single specific policy proposal to accomplish any of these ambitious goals.  Anyone who has read into the enormous literature on this subject, both in print or on line, will be extremely disappointed by Romney's apparent lack of depth when it comes to Islam and terrorism.  I continue to believe that Romney is not the right man for the job, because he plainly is not prepared to be a war time leader.

The last major issue Romney touched upon was our need for "energy independence."  Romney argued that as a nation we can, and should, become energy independent.  Frankly, either Romney has forgotten his basic economics or he is pandering on environmental issues.  This nation will never become "energy independent" because it makes no sense economically to do so.  It is cheaper to purchase much of our energy (oil) from foreign suppliers.  Cheaper energy means we are all richer.  Moreover, most of our foreign oil comes from friendly countries.  There is nothing problematic about purchasing oil from Canada and Mexico. 

In my opinion, a responsible politician would not offer pie-in-the-sky nonsense about "energy independence," but instead would address the actual problem -- which is buying oil from fundamentally hostile regimes in the Middle East, which then funnel much of that oil money into support for religious, political, and terrorist activities that are antagonistic to our way of life.  But Romney is not prepared to admit the truth about the "clash of civilizations" going on between the West and Islam.  As he stated in his speech, he sees the terror problem as something separate from and in opposition to the larger Muslim world.  Consequently, he cannot acknowledge the true problem with oil imports.

Incredibly, Romney did not address the immigration problem, or the seemingly inexorably slide towards socialized medicine.  Of course, with respect to health care, Romney is well known for having implemented a form of "universal coverage" health insurance in Massachusetts, so he is likely to support a similar plan at the federal level.  Indeed, his campaign website identifies "extending health insurance to all Americans" as one of the ten issues the country must address to remain an economic and military superpower.  While his website claims that he will accomplish this goal "not through a government program or new taxes, but through market reforms," this is not plausible.  Any "universal coverage" legislation that is passed at the federal level (by a Democrat-controlled Congress, remember) will be chock full of government mandates, new and/or expanded regulatory agencies, and a host of taxes, fees, payments, and other costs.  Don't be fooled, Romney is not advocating a truly free market approach, emphasizing de-regulation and privatization.  Rather, he is advocating a "more efficient" method of top-down management of the medical industry by government.  In other words, socialized medicine.
 
Romney concluded his speech in an odd manner.  He said that he is not seeking the presidency as the next step in his "career" because he already had his career in the private sector.  He said that he is not seeking the presidency because he loves government; rather, the "love of his life" is his wife and children.  Instead, he said he wants to be president out of a desire to "give back to the country" and to help ensure that his children and grandchildren have the same opportunities he did.  Personally, I thought this approach fell flat.  "Giving back" is something that ordinary citizens do to help improve their local communities and to feel better about their own success in life compared to those who have been less fortunate.  One does not become President of the United States to "give back" to the country. 

One becomes President of the United States to lead and inspire.  In my opinion, Romney does neither.

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney capped off a day of fundraising in New York recently with an event at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Manhattan.  I attended the pre-dinner cocktail reception, at which Romney gave the short version of his standard stump speech.  There were about two hundred people at the reception.  After a brief introduction by former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (1991-1997), during which Weld said that Romney was "the best I've ever seen" and a "Republican Jack Kennedy," Romney spoke for about 15 minutes.

The main theme of Romney's speech was the need for greater efficiency and accountability in government, which he claims he will be able to accomplish due to his significant private sector experience.  This is the same theme he emphasized during his keynote speech at the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit in January.  To hammer home this theme, Romney amusingly criticized the Democratic front-runners -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- for never having "run a corner store, let alone a large enterprise."  As Romney aptly stated:  "The presidency is not an internship job."  These were good jabs.

Significantly, Romney's message is not one about shrinking the size of government.  Indeed, he illustrated his approach with a story about funding for homeless services in Massachusetts.  After he became governor in 2002, Romney noticed a $30 million budget item to provide hotel rooms for homeless people when the existing shelters were full.  Romney instituted a new set of procedures for allocating bed space that largely eliminated this expenditure.  But instead of returning the saved money to the taxpayers, Romney stated that they were able to use the money for other, more important services.  As Romney explained, "efficiency is desperately needed" -- not that the size of government needs to be reduced.

On this point, there is nothing Reaganesque about Romney's message.  Romney clearly will be a "big government conservative" just like President Bush.  Perhaps he will be a better manager than President Bush -- although the analogy between serving as a corporate or nonprofit CEO and serving as President of the United States is strained at best -- but he will have to contend with a hostile and intransigent Congress and bureaucracy that will oppose any serious effort to bring "business management principles" to the operations of government.

Romney then rattled off his "we have got to" list.  In keeping with his business theme, the first item he mentioned was responding to the economic challenge from China.  He did not explain what it is about this challenge that threatens the United States (e.g., the trade deficit, erosion of our domestic manufacturing base, the expansion of the Chinese military, etc.).  He simply stated that "we have got to" improve our education system and our "technological investments," or we will fall behind and lose our superpower status.  Romney did not offer a single specific policy proposal.  But the message I came away with is of a top-down, government-led effort in these areas.  No mention of decentralized decisionmaking, school choice, investment tax credits, and the like.  Romney's message sounds just like the Clinton/Gore message of 1992.

Romney then addressed, in his own very awkward phrase, the "attack of the jihad."  How this could be a lesser priority than economic competition from China, I don't understand, and Romney did not explain.  Romney listed a number of "reforms" we need to help implement, including strengthening "moderate" governments within the Muslim world (which he did not identify), encouraging the "rule of law" (an empty phrase, when one considers that sharia is "law"), encouraging growth-oriented economic policies, and spreading education among the Muslim masses -- while at the same time ensuring that such education is not conducted through Wahhabi institutions.  Again, Romney did not offer a single specific policy proposal to accomplish any of these ambitious goals.  Anyone who has read into the enormous literature on this subject, both in print or on line, will be extremely disappointed by Romney's apparent lack of depth when it comes to Islam and terrorism.  I continue to believe that Romney is not the right man for the job, because he plainly is not prepared to be a war time leader.

The last major issue Romney touched upon was our need for "energy independence."  Romney argued that as a nation we can, and should, become energy independent.  Frankly, either Romney has forgotten his basic economics or he is pandering on environmental issues.  This nation will never become "energy independent" because it makes no sense economically to do so.  It is cheaper to purchase much of our energy (oil) from foreign suppliers.  Cheaper energy means we are all richer.  Moreover, most of our foreign oil comes from friendly countries.  There is nothing problematic about purchasing oil from Canada and Mexico. 

In my opinion, a responsible politician would not offer pie-in-the-sky nonsense about "energy independence," but instead would address the actual problem -- which is buying oil from fundamentally hostile regimes in the Middle East, which then funnel much of that oil money into support for religious, political, and terrorist activities that are antagonistic to our way of life.  But Romney is not prepared to admit the truth about the "clash of civilizations" going on between the West and Islam.  As he stated in his speech, he sees the terror problem as something separate from and in opposition to the larger Muslim world.  Consequently, he cannot acknowledge the true problem with oil imports.

Incredibly, Romney did not address the immigration problem, or the seemingly inexorably slide towards socialized medicine.  Of course, with respect to health care, Romney is well known for having implemented a form of "universal coverage" health insurance in Massachusetts, so he is likely to support a similar plan at the federal level.  Indeed, his campaign website identifies "extending health insurance to all Americans" as one of the ten issues the country must address to remain an economic and military superpower.  While his website claims that he will accomplish this goal "not through a government program or new taxes, but through market reforms," this is not plausible.  Any "universal coverage" legislation that is passed at the federal level (by a Democrat-controlled Congress, remember) will be chock full of government mandates, new and/or expanded regulatory agencies, and a host of taxes, fees, payments, and other costs.  Don't be fooled, Romney is not advocating a truly free market approach, emphasizing de-regulation and privatization.  Rather, he is advocating a "more efficient" method of top-down management of the medical industry by government.  In other words, socialized medicine.
 
Romney concluded his speech in an odd manner.  He said that he is not seeking the presidency as the next step in his "career" because he already had his career in the private sector.  He said that he is not seeking the presidency because he loves government; rather, the "love of his life" is his wife and children.  Instead, he said he wants to be president out of a desire to "give back to the country" and to help ensure that his children and grandchildren have the same opportunities he did.  Personally, I thought this approach fell flat.  "Giving back" is something that ordinary citizens do to help improve their local communities and to feel better about their own success in life compared to those who have been less fortunate.  One does not become President of the United States to "give back" to the country. 

One becomes President of the United States to lead and inspire.  In my opinion, Romney does neither.

Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.