Twenty years ago, the current Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis declared to the Democratic National Convention that the time had come for the country to consider “competence over ideology” in its selection of the successor to Ronald Reagan. Apparently, the country listened to this injunction, because they chose Dukakis’s opponent, Vice President George H.W. Bush. As a result, Dukakis’s campaign slogan, “competence over ideology,” went straight to the ash heap of history.
So it’s rather ironic that now, 20 years later, I am invoking a similar phrase to describe a former Massachusetts Governor who is running for president. However, unlike Dukakis, who had no choice but to emphasize his mediocre competence over his disastrous ideology, the candidate I endorse has the great fortune of being described with the phrase “competence AND ideology.” I refer, of course, to Mitt Romney, whom I have the pleasure of endorsing on behalf of the Wesleyan College Republicans.
First, let’s deal with the issue of competence. As anyone who has given Romney’s record even a cursory glance knows, Romney’s primary attribute is his ability to get things done, rather than promise to get things done and then conveniently forget when the matter becomes too hard. Far from backing away from a challenge, Romney seems to relish wading into disastrous waters and batting off the sharks with his fantastic business acumen. After graduating at the top of his class at both Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School (which he attended concurrently), Romney managed to turn the fledgling company Bane Capital into a multibillion-dollar enterprise. Not satisfied with running such a successful company, however, Romney then turned his attention to the mess that was the Salt Lake City Olympics. Romney wasted no time in not only rehabilitating the disastrous Olympics, but making them run like clockwork.
And even after this fierce challenge, Romney apparently couldn’t stop spoiling for a fight, for he decided to try and fix the very model of fiscal disaster—the Massachusetts budget. It is here that Romney’s credentials as an ideologue begin to emerge alongside his spectacularly competent administrative abilities. Not only did Romney succeed in alleviating the state’s $1.2 billion deficit, he even managed to force the fanatically liberal legislature to enact a $275 million rebate of anti-enterprise retroactive capital gains taxes. Spending did not fare so well, but as the Club for Growth has pointed out, “Governor Romney’s record on spending must be considered within the liberal political context in which he governed.” To compensate for this lapse in Romney’s otherwise rock-ribbed fiscal conservatism, however, are his efforts to reform the Welfare system in line with the Welfare reform act of 1995, which Massachusetts had dragged its feet over for seven years by the time he took office.
There are, naturally, comparisons to be made between Romney and Reagan. Like Reagan, Romney comes to the electoral scene as the former Governor of a very liberal state. Like Reagan also, Romney has disclaimed positions he took in his past as mistaken. Reagan campaigned as a budget-cutter and supply-sider; Romney cut the Massachusetts budget by $343 million in order to balance it. Reagan was notorious for his toughness in dealing with the enemies of the United States; Romney declared his intention to “double Guantanamo” to insure that our foes are kept out of range. Reagan was a man who understood the faith of average Americans, while simultaneously believing in freedom of conscience; Romney has used his unconventional faith as a conduit for a message of religious freedom.
But perhaps the most important similarity between Romney and Reagan is the fact that both men lived the American Dream. Reagan used his fantastic oratorical skills and infectious charisma to land one of the most coveted jobs in America—that of an actor. Romney, meanwhile, has diligently built his fortune and his political credentials from the ground up, eventually arriving at the point where his vast fortune renders him all but immune to lobbyists and bribery. At a time when American has been spending and relaxing like Aesop’s grasshopper, Romney stands as the ultimate frugal ant who can save us from the winter of recession, for he is the only candidate for whom the termination of fiscal crises is a habit, rather than a skill.
Some have attacked Romney for his vast capabilities as a financier, claiming that he worked for “profit, not patriotism.” This foul false dichotomy cannot be allowed to stand, for one of the greatest things Americans have to be patriotic about is the economic prosperity which allows our nation to blossom—economic prosperity which is held up by the efforts of entrepreneurs and innovators like Romney. Romney might not be the “candidate of our generation,” but he is the candidate of that most precious attribute of the American mind: the capacity to dream, and through blood, sweat, tears, toil and frugality, to claw oneself up to the heights of success.