Long evenings of speeches, videos, and testimonials have now been devoted to tenderizing Mitt Romney. Um, actually, make that, humanizing. After all, as Mitt himself has declared, he doesn’t want to be treated as a piece of meat.
So, assessment time: How did it go — and will it work?
Ann Romney has every right to be pleased. She stepped to the political plate and hit a triple with a warm and winning speech that opened a window onto Mitt the husband and family man. Less so Chris Christie, though he did manage to slip a mention or two of Mitt into his celebration of self and the wonders a certain Republican governor has wrought in New Jersey.
Other than Ann, perhaps the best tribute was a video valentine from the House of Bush. First the two former Presidents Bush praised each other. That’s easy to do in the case of George H.W., who looks better and better as time goes by, but requires more imagination when it comes to George W., who made more hash than history. Still, his father rose manfully to the task, focusing on the largely corruption-free administration his son ran. (Yes, that’s faint praise in the grand scheme of things, but at least it’s praise.) Then the two former presidents gave Romney their video seal of approval.
So if Romney was a Mittstery to voters and if those voters tuned into the Tampa convention, they were left with an image of a man who loves his family, his faith, and his country, and who gives of himself and his fortune to his church-members and neighbors.
Now the bad news for the GOP: Even if undecided voters are now assured that in his personal life, Romney is, as ticket mate Paul Ryan said on Wednesday, “prayerful and faithful and honorable” and “a fine man,” that’s really not the overriding issue.
Yes, people want to feel good about their potential presidents. But this year’s campaign will not be about personality and personal qualities. Rather, it will be an argument about big choices.
And that’s precisely where Romney runs into problems. Christie’s formulation notwithstanding, Romney really isn’t telling people hard truths. Rather, he is running on a fiscal plan that either obscures or sidesteps those truths.
Consider: Romney rails about the debt, but he has embraced the Bush tax cuts responsible for a large part of our structural deficit. What’s more, he has proposed a massive new tax cut. And how would it be paid for? So far, with a magic asterisk accompanied by this footnote: We’ll figure it out after the election.
Because he’s not willing to speak a truth that a courageous George H.W. Bush eventually embraced — the federal government needs more revenue — Romney would instead do all his budget-balancing on the spending side. That will mean deeper cuts in social programs than would result from the balanced, budget-cuts-plus-new-revenues approach that the various bipartisan panels or commissions have recommended.
Here’s the underlying hypocrisy of the Romney-Ryan program: They declare that it’s immoral to continue heaping debt upon future generations and that we simply must tackle our long-term deficits. And on both those counts, they are right. But here’s what they don’t acknowledge openly: For them, that supposed moral imperative is secondary not just to protecting the Bush-era tax cuts for upper earners but to offering another big round of tax cuts as well.
Further, though Romney and Ryan talk of preserving Medicare — “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours,” Ryan pledged in his Wednesday speech — over time, their plan would cut the senior health care program more deeply than would otherwise be necessary if they weren’t intent on preserving the tax cuts for upper earners.
The two Republicans have tried to sidestep that reality by saying that tomorrow’s seniors could opt for traditional Medicare if they wanted. But here’s what usually goes unsaid: If traditional fee-for-service Medicare costs above the amount of the supports or vouchers future seniors would receive, they will have to make up the difference themselves. In other words, what sounds like a safe harbor option isn’t that at all.
Nor, for that matter, do they mention that repealing Obamacare will reopen the so-called doughnut hole in the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, costing current seniors more there. Or that turning Medicaid into a state-administered block grant will mean big cuts in the program that pays for nursing home care for many seniors.
These are important issues, but voters haven’t heard the real truth about any of them at this convention. There’s a reason for that: The details and effects of the Romney-Ryan policies run counter to the fiscal approach most Americans favor.
Yet if the Obama campaign is competent, those truths should become apparent over the next two months. And if and when they do, the prospect of unpopular policies is likely to trump the politics of personality.