Mitt Romney and the Vision Thing

On Monday, David Brooks made the case for Mitt Romney. The short version? Sure, he’s more of a technocratic administrator—sorry, an “effective executive”—than a combative ideological visionary, but maybe that’s just what the White House needs. Brooks all but admits that Romney lacks deep personal ideological commitments to guide him, but doesn’t find that too worrying. After all, he says, the party doesn’t need vision from a president. It just needs execution:

This is not a party riven by big ideological differences. This is not Reagan versus Rockefeller. Whoever wins the nomination will be leading a party with a cohesive ideology and a common set of priorities: reform taxes, replace Obamacare, cut spending and reform entitlements. The next president won’t have to come up with a vision, just execute the things almost all Republicans agree upon.

Simple, right?

Perhaps I’ve missed a round or two of think tank white papers and campaign-trail economic proposals, but as far as I can tell, a unifying policy agenda is exactly what Republicans don’t have.

Yes, as Brooks points out, there are some broad areas of agreement. But a murky commitment to tax reform, entitlement reform, and spending control do not by themselves constitute a vision. If supporting some unspecified changes in those areas was all that was necessary to lead the GOP, then many Democrats, including President Obama, who at least in theory supports deficit reduction, changes to the tax code, and a variety of technocratic policies intended to restrain the growth of Medicare spending, would qualify.  

Having a vision doesn't require supporting a particular piece of legislation. But it does mean pointing in the direction of some specific reform. Merely pointing out that we need to move forward in some policy area is not sufficient; a candidate also needs to do something to indicate where we need to go.

Supporting tax reform, for example, could simply mean lowering corporate tax rates (as Romney has proposed). It could mean attacking corporate tax loopholes and making individual tax rates more progressive. It could mean simplifying the system, lowering marginal rates, and implementing a VAT. It could mean pressing for a flat tax, a national sales tax, or a zillion other policy permutations. Tax reform isn't a vision; a loophole-free flat tax is. 

The thing is, it’s not just Romney who doesn’t appear to have a vision. It’s most of the Republican party. Most of the GOP agrees that major reforms are necessary. But there isn’t much agreement about what kind of reform. And Romney, the longtime consultant, isn’t offering a vision so much as reflecting their own muddled thinking back to them in a slightly slicker package.

This is even true to some extent with what is typically thought of as the party's clearest and most unifying agenda item, ObamaCare. Yes, the vast majority of GOP voters would like to see it repealed and probably replaced. But the question is: with what? And how would Medicare fit into the equation? I have no idea how Romney would replace last year’s health care overhaul, and I don’t think he does either. Figuring this out is not simply a matter of execution. It's a matter of vision. And on health policy, Romney doesn’t have one.

Since the start of the campaign, he's committed to letting states enact their own version of ObamaCare, as he infamously did in Massachusetts; to possibly supporting some vague, unspecified variation on Rep. Paul Ryan’s premium support overhaul; and to attacking the Medicare payment reductions included in ObamaCare while siding with unhappy seniors who want the government not to touch Medicare at all. This is totally incoherent.

These are complex policy decisions driven as much by principle as by managerial competence. Romney appears to possess only one of those things.

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  • Tim||

    If there is one candidate most likely to leave Obamacare in place...

  • Zuo||

    If Romney wins it gives total credence to the claim that Repub tea partiers are simply racists who hate Obama because he's half black.

    I've never believe that...but if Romney wins what else can you conclude?

    *I'm aware that at this time TP n00bs don't back Romney. But if they do...

  • kilroy||

    It needs execution

    I agree. The GOP needs execution.

  • kilroy||

    Nice alt-text, BTW. And here's hoping it doesn't.

  • cynical||

    You're halfway to a solution.

  • ||

    Whoever wins the nomination will be leading a party with a cohesive ideology and a common set of priorities: reform taxes by raising them, replace Obamacare with single-payer, cut defense spending and reform entitlements to provide bigger benefits to more people.

    If your "vision" is completely compatible with the more extreme elements of your opposition, maybe it isn't really a vision at all.

  • BakedPenguin||

    This is totally incoherent.

    Been covering politics for long, Suderman?

  • kinnath||

    I just want to know who sits at the controls for the drone candidate known as "Mitt".

  • ||

    Yes, the vast majority of GOP voters would like to see it repealed and probably replaced.

    Why would they want it replaced? Medicare's an issue, but getting insurance isn't a right or even desired. The only reason to insure everybody is so that the voluntary uninsured (young, healthy workers) are mandated to pay for the uninsurable (old, sick unemployed). Other than "save our gramps" medicare supporters, the GOP is not interested in that.

  • ||

    Maybe you could replace it with a law that ends the deduction for business paid employee insurance, so that individually purchased insurance and company purchased insurance are on the same tax footing.

    Maybe you could also replace it with a law allowing selling of health insurance across state lines to create a larger market.

  • ||

    Some would call that a replacement. I would call it something else entirely. It addresses the issues with the current system, not instituting a new one.

  • ||

    Well, trying to fix a broken system by adding even more broken parts to the system is the height fallacy.

  • Apogee||

    There's a correlation between those candidates running with actual plans that might affect the guaranteed status quo of the big benefactors and those same candidates lack of coverage.

    Romney's "top tier" because he won't do anything to upset the guaranteed payout to the ensconced statists.

  • kilroy||

    Spot on.

  • ||

    On Monday, David Brooks made the case for Mitt Romney.

    This is really all you need to write. If David Brooks likes you, you will not be getting my vote and shouldn't be getting anyone elses.

  • Loki||

    Brooks' comments, in general, could as easily be applied to the OWS types. They have what might be described as a "cohesive ideology and common set of priorities" (corporations are bad, we want free stuff), but that certainly doesn't make them effective.

    Hey, maybe they could hire Mittens as a consultant to help them "execute their vision!"

  • ChrisO||

    Apparently, the crease in Romney's slacks is sharp enough for Brooks' liking.

  • CE||

    After all, he says, the party doesn’t need vision from a president. It just needs execution

    Brooks should be happy if Obama is reelected then. He executes people without waiting for annoying things like indictments, extradition, or Congressional approval.

  • T||

  • BelieveInAmerica||

    You can say he is a flip-flopper, you can say he is a moderate, you can say he is a panderer, you can even say that he has vision. But you can’t say that every situation he’s been in, he hasn’t left it far better than he found it.

    Mitt Romney fixes things. That’s what he does, that’s what he’s good at. Sometimes he says all the right things along the way, sometimes he doesn’t. I don’t much care for how he gets there in the process, just that he fixes it when all is said and done.

    Romney's proven that he has ENOUGH vision to get the job done wherever he goes. You can't say that for the rest of the field.

  • ||

    I think plenty of Taxachussetians can argue his "fixes".

  • cynical||

    I don't think they have that much sense, in general.

  • ||

    I hate to say it, but I agree. I would hate for us to get all hopey and changey. I'm not there yet, but if the man could convince me that all he was is a good manager, it might just be a heck of a lot better than another one of these guys with 'vision'

  • CF||

    If Romney doesn't have a "vision", then it seems to me he gets along fixing problems just fine without it.

  • ||

    A presidential candidate at this stage in the game would be stupid to share their "vision thing". Visions are the foundation of policies and both directly correlate with issues. Issues and then policies are the two things that political rivals attack first. Just like negotiating a sale, the person who tips his hand first generally loses. How do you unseat an incumbent? First, attack them on issues/problems that have not been addressed, for example border control. Secondly, attack them on failed policy designed to address issues, for example failed stimulus packages. Not only does sharing, a "vision thing," at this point make a party frontrunner extremely vulnerable to other potential nominees, it would tip his/her hand to the other party.

    The incumbent has an inherent advantage in all elections. First, he has name recognition. Many studies have shown that name recognition is the single largest reason voters elect someone. Secondly, incumbent has a proven track-record while rivals typically have to prove that their experience is relevant. The third, name recognition and track-record lead to greater fiscal support. And finally, while the incumbent indeed has to do his/her job, he/she usually doesn't have compete in a draining primary.


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