Will Romney Ever Achieve Total Proficiency as a Dispenser of Red Meat?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mitt Romney delivered the goods last night during his victory speech in New Hampshire and the audience ate it up. Much of what he had to say was lifted from his standard stump speech and TV commercials, so he unloaded the words fairly easily, one fastball after another to Obama's head. He said:

"President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial."

"Our campaign is about more than replacing a President, it is about saving the soul of America."

"President Obama wants to fundamentally transform America."

"He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society."

"This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe."

"Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy."

"He apologizes for America."

"If this election is a bidding war for who can promise more benefits, then I'm not your President. You have that President today."

It was strong stuff, stuff meant to call forth strong emotions, some of which the audience would not be consciously aware of, such as fear and resentment of a different-looking leader with a very foreign name.

I have a theory that Romney doesn't really believe a lot of what he's saying on the campaign trail, that he is uncomfortable with the rhetorical demands of red-meat politicking, and that his discomfort often shows in the smiles and eyes that hold something back, and in the posture that can suggest a freshman at his first dance. He's simply not good at faking sincerity, which might tell us his parents did a good job putting some bedrock under his character.

Mitt Romney is a highly intelligent man. He earned an MBA and a law degree simultaneously at Harvard. He made a fortune for himself and his colleagues at Bain Capital by putting together solid business deals. He's a "deals" superstar. He succeeded because he can look at the world dispassionately, evaluate events objectively, and make decisions bloodlessly on facts and numbers alone. Those who have worked with Romney say you can never give him too much data.

So the first time he said in public that his election is tantamount to "saving the soul of America," it must have been hard for him. He was crossing a big threshold, proclaiming an historical mission of national salvation, which is something they don't practice much at Harvard Business School and Bain Capital.

I remember a story about Romney, soon after taking office as governor of Massachusetts, visiting a state representative who had graduated from Harvard Business School and asking her, "What is the value of intelligence in this building (the State House)?" (It was explained to me that "value of intelligence" is a term used at Harvard to denote the quality of information one receives from others in any given situation. High-quality intelligence is therefore the truest and most reliable by objective standards. People making business deals obviously have a burning need for intelligence like that.) The rep answered Romney by saying, "Governor, the value of intelligence as you understand it does not exist in this building." I'm sure Romney appreciated the rep's candor even as he shuddered within.

Romney is now far removed from the world of business. He not only functions full-time in a world where the value of intelligence, as he once crucially understood it, does not exist, but also has become, of necessity, a skilled player in that world, even as he paradoxically stakes his claim to the Presidency on his business acumen.

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