Saturday, March 24, 2012

Romney Republicans: an Update

The plot thickens.  Romney is now looking more inevitable than ever, with conservative-establishment darlings Jeb Bush and Jim De Mint now lining up behind him, and a swing in the polls in Wisconsin, arguably Santorum's heartland, from Santorum winning by 15 to Romney winning by 15.  I'm not cheering for either side here -- I just wrote a long piece about the positive significance of Santorum's religious thought, which does have implications for Romney.  But I do think it's possible -- I don't know how likely, but possible -- that Romney could be really good.

I recently argued that Romney represents a new and very different kind of "Rockefeller Republican": in the model of Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Mark Walker, and my man, Mitch Daniels, among others, Romney may be someone who puts everything else aside in favor of fixing our nation's books: the managerial revolution.  I argued, using Chris Christie as case number one, that there is even something of a subversion of democracy here (which I do not see as necessarily a bad thing).  Christie concealed who he was in order to get elected, because that's the only way he could do the work my state, New Jersey, so desperately needs.  Perhaps Romney is doing the same.  Perhaps, like all of the above, he is in truth a morally conservative, fiscally conservative, limited-government guy -- but, as Mitch Daniels said a year ago, he realizes we need to call a truce on everything else, as far as possible, in order to get a mandate for dealing with the Red Menace of debt.

TODAY the Wall Street Journal's Weekend Interview -- one of the best features of America's finest newspaper -- is with Rhode Island's new treasurer, Gina Raimondo.   I don't know anything about her, but the Weekend Interview usually shoots pretty straight.  I have to say, though, this Weekend Interview strikes me as naive.

The Interviewer, Allysia Finley, grins that Raimondo is a Democrat, who likes government: ha!  gotcha, public unions!  But otherwise, Gina Raimondo is Chris Christie: public enemy number one of the unions, and now America's greatest reformer of public pensions, in the name of keeping the books.
The former venture capitalist is a Democrat, which means that she believes in government as a force for good. But "a government that doesn't work is in no one's interest," she says. 
"Budgets that don't balance, public programs that aren't funded, pension funds that are running out of money, schools that aren't funded—How does that help anyone? I don't really care if you're a Republican or Democrat or you want to fight about the size of government. How about a government that just works? Put your tax dollar in and get a return out the other end." 
A few years ago Ms. Raimondo read "an article in the paper about libraries closing and public bus service being cut nights, weekends and holidays, and I just thought it doesn't have to be this way." 
"When I started to talk about pensions, [people] would ask 'Why should I care about pensions?' And I said, 'Because if you don't, your whatever it is, homeless shelter, is going to lose X thousand of dollars of funding.'" 
Republicans often threaten to slash funding for charities and foundations, but Democrats pride themselves on being more compassionate. So when the Democratic treasurer warned "foundations that you're going to get a cut if we don't reform," people believed she was speaking in good faith. 
This is pure Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels -- perhaps (I hope!) Mitt Romney.

Paul Ryan, who is very earnest and honest (a boy from Southern Wisconsin, like me! doesn't know how to hold his cards close like these Northeasters), is accused of wanting to push Granny off a cliff.  I just saw an extremely earnest article in the Christian Science Monitor (not something I read! I followed a link) about how Paul Ryan is a pure social Darwinist, trying to kill off the weak!  Yikes!

So, if you really want to do what Paul Ryan is making clear (to non-fanatics) that we must do, you have to take a different tack.  You say, oh, no, I'm a bleeding-heart liberal!  I want big government!  No, really, I'm a Democrat!  I'm doing it for the public libraries!  And then you get in and slash and burn.  Not cynically, but earnestly, because it's true: there will be no public libraries if we don't solve this problem.

Or, perhaps, (I hope!) if you're running for the Republican nomination for president, you say, yes, of course I'm the biggest hawk on the planet, I'm passionate about bombing Iran, and I just hate illegal immigrants -- but you also do your best to make no promises about cutting taxes (which has to take second seat to cutting spending), you do nothing to pose as a social conservative (even if you are), because you have to win the election in November.  (Is Romney saying whatever the polls want him to?  Absolutely!  Does that mean he has no convictions?  Not necessarily . . . .)  If you're a pro-lifer like Mitch Daniels, you lie and say you're not -- not because you would be pro-choice in office (any more than Romney was pro-choice in office, even though he said he would be), but because you must get elected, because the state needs you to clean up.  If you're like Chris Christie and Gina Raimondo, running in really screwed up, really Democratic states like New Jersey and Rhode Island, you say you're a squishy moderate, maybe even a liberal Democrat.

ARE THESE LIES?  Are they a subversion of democracy?  Oh, kind of.  But not exactly.

Not exactly lies, because all of these Managerial Republicans (or Democrats) ARE saying what they think is most important.  Gina Raimondo DOES care about libraries.  Chris Christie DOESN'T just want to take the side of the rich and the suburbs against the poor and the cities.  Mitch Daniels DOES think that it's worth making a truce on social issues in order to defeat the Red Menace.  It's just a matter of emphasis.  Or, to put it in a more sinister way, of hiding what the people most want to know, in order to give them what they most need to know.

A subversion of democracy?  Yes and no.  Democracy, remember -- mob rule, majority rule, putting everything to a vote -- is not the American ideal, or was not until about a hundred years ago.  Our founding fathers knew that democracy is the most foolish kind of government.  The kind of government that gives the people anything they want, even when it means destroying our foundation: putting us deep into debt so we can pretend to be richer than we are, destroying our families and our cultures so we can have fun now, etc.  Democracy is the juvenile form of government.  Our founders wanted a Republic, where the people speak, but where there are significant safeguards against this kind of adolescent behavior.  (I'm not proposing monarchy, which the founders -- and I -- think is just as bad, if not worse!  Just a more careful kind of popular rule, where the People as a whole rule, through their better angels, not the mob through its basest passions.)

The Managers realize, after a hundred years of this stupidity, that they have to talk the democratic talk, say what they need to say to get elected.  But, in a complete turning inside out of the Rockefeller ideal, rather than then giving them what they want, the Managers intend to give them what they need.  (This is the complete opposite of people like Ross Douthat, who pose as conservatives but propose liberal policies.)  Not a perfect system.  But when we had a pretty good republican Constitution, we broke it and turned it into the mess we have now.  So the Managers work with what they've got.

BY THE WAY -- I argued four years ago that Rudy Giuliani was a cynical manipulator -- in the very most positive sense of those words -- in this very way.  New York wants a social liberal?  Okay!  "I'm a social liberal!"  Now I'm going to kick the slime out of Times Square and the Brooklyn Museum, fight abortion with every tool I can find, get crime off the streets, and make New York into a place for families again.

I'm not a native of the Northeast.  My people speak plainly, like Paul Ryan.  But people around here know something about dealing with crowds.