Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mitt's Planet Heats Up

As pretty much everyone has heard by now, Mitt Romney did a sudden U-turn and decided that the grass really was greener on the White House lawn.  He is back in. 

I am for this.  No, I have not lost my mind, nor do I have a tactical reason why I would want Romney to throw a stun grenade into the list of potential Jeb Bush (and Chris Christie) campaign  contributors.  I have absolutely no doubt that, when it comes to the 2016 election, the amount of money available will beyond the human mind’s capacity to count.  2016 is, literally, going to be for all the marbles, and a Republican sweep will, in less than two years, fundamentally change the way government and the economy is run for the foreseeable future.  If you have an economic interest in that particular trade, there is no question you will be investing heavily.

So, why would I want Mitt back in? Because I see a challenge for him that few in the Republican Party are capable of taking on.  He has nothing to prove, and he does not need to genuflect to the most radical wing of the party. Nor does he owe anything to Democrats. He can run on who he is and what he really believes in.  If Mitt Romney believes he would be the best President of the current field, both Republican and Democratic, let him tell us why. He is obviously not a bomb-thrower like Ted Cruz, or an off-the-beaten path guy like Rand Paul.  But what distinguishes him from people like Jeb or Christie, or Walker or Kasich?

This is where Romney could do both his party and his country a real service.  Last week, I talked about both party’s needs to challenge their respective orthodoxies.  If you look at polling data, what you will find is that both Democratic and Republican younger voters are substantially less enthusiastic about their parties “core truths” than boomers and senior voters are. 

Here are two issues that Romney can lead the way on: The environment and privacy.

Let’s begin with the environment—and specifically, not climate change.  I am omitting climate change because, while a majority of younger Republican voters believe it is occurring, it is a non-negotiable point of resistance and ridicule from both the ideological base, and the corporate contributors who pay to keep the lights on and the limos purring.  You cannot win an argument on climate change, no matter what the consensus in the scientific community might be.  So, drop it.  If I’m Mitt Romney, I say “I’m first and foremost a business man, and in business, you don’t throw massive amounts of money at something unless you are sure it both exists, and there are viable ways to deal with it.  I will keep an open mind, but we aren’t there yet.” 

But, concern for the environment is something that resonates with a large portion of the electorate, and the one thing that the GOP seems absolutely set on is drilling, fracking, piping, clear cutting, emitting and dumping as much as possible, and regardless of the damage it does.  Mitt can offer another way. “I love this country, and I love the outdoors, the beautiful mountains and forests.  I ski, I hunt and fish, I do it with my family, and I want others to be able to do the same, and not just those who have been as fortunate as I have.  So, let’s start talking about conserving what we have.  Our national park system is the greatest in the world, and we ought to be preserving it.  It is an asset that is owned by all of us, and I won’t support policies  that will spoil that.  We own vast tracts of public lands, and, again, as a businessman,  if we are going to exploit those, I want  it to be done prudently, with as much attention to keeping the natural beauty as possible.  And, I want to see transactions at fair market values. We just can’t be giving things away.”

And, “Let’s talk about regulations.  Yes, we over regulate, and as a businessman, I can’t back a rule that creates a huge expense for a small and uncertain benefit.  To people who want me to stop a dam because of a toad, I won’t do it.  But, that said, regulations have a purpose, and we have to do better on our land, water, and air even if that costs money, even if business or the consumer has to pay for it, and even if it costs jobs.  I know that’s not popular, but it is the truth. It’s common sense that if your next door neighbor decides to build a smelter next to you, and he dumps waste on to your land, or into your water, that’s his responsibility to clean up.  We should hold businesses to the same standard.”

That was fun. I enjoyed being a ventriloquist. More importantly, those are obviously radical ideas in the more ideological parts of the party, but they aren’t at all in the nation.  Environmental policy is perhaps the most nuanced, most likely to have crosscurrents, and people don’t sort out that easily by party identification.  Think of gun-owners who prize the forest. Talk to them quietly, engage their intellect, and people get the idea that this is an area that requires clear thinking, careful analysis, and difficult tradeoffs.  Mitt Romney could take the leap, be the grownup in the room, and start the discussion.

The same is true with privacy, something we should all care about, but again, is particularly of concern to younger voters.  Government surveillance and big business data mining are putting all of our lives under a constant microscope. 

Yes, there is money to be made, and terrorists to be rooted out.  But it’s creepy to go on line and see a pop-up advertisement for the very same pinstriped Brooks Brother’s slim-fit shirt you looked at yesterday—on a website devoted to baseball.  And it is unreasonable for every telephone conversation, every web search,  every text, every email, and every random exchange of words in both public and private spaces to be an open book to some governmental agency.  I am always puzzled by people who are OK with it—so long as their guy is on the other end of the computer screen.  I have been profoundly disappointed by President Obama’s unwillingness to deliver in this area. I expect to be profoundly disappointed with the next President, of either party, because every politician in a position to make decisions fears the implications, and the accusations of malfeasance, of another attack.  And, sad to say, many like the power. 

As a free people, we shouldn’t be passive on this.  Most of us don't feel safer, we feel violated. We understand there will be some tradeoffs,  and imperfections, but huge and bipartisan majority of us will appreciate the effort.

Rand Paul raises these issues but he isn’t in a position to truly influence policy.  Mitt Romney could, if he were willing to take the risk.  Romney could propose limits on the commercial exploitation of personal data (no profit, no need to pry) and restrictions on where and what the government can look at.

Will he? I should note that Romney’s recent announcement that he’s back has been met by many with a mix of indifference, resistance, and outright hostility, and maybe that’s as it should be, if he remains on Planet Status Quo.  There are newer and fresher faces.

But if he’s willing to mix it up and try to engage the electorate—not the pundits and the party pols, but ordinary voters—on things that they know are complex, but they care about, he might find things heating up. 

December 14, 2014

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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