I’m planning on voting for Mitt Romney in November. If by some very strange fluke he is not the Republican nominee, I will probably vote for whoever is the Republican nominee. But that appears extremely unlikely.
I often hear people say that they are not willing to vote for the “lesser of two evils” and therefore will not vote for Romney. People say we should vote for principle, not party. Sometimes the complaint is that Romney is “socialist-lite”, not really conservative, and not worthy of our vote. Sometimes people refuse to vote for him because he is a Mormon. I’ll address that later on.
Romney is not a movement conservative; I don’t think anyone confuses him for one. He has taken positions I was not fond of. I had other first choices. But the party has settled on Romney. If I thought Romney was likely to do the country harm, then I would not vote for him, party loyalty notwithstanding. But I believe he will do the country good.
What we need right now, more than anything, is to get the economy going again. To do this I believe the government primarily needs to remove disincentives to investment and risk-taking. I do not believe the government can or should do a great deal to make the economy strong, but it can do a great deal to make the economy weak. Excessive regulations, punitive and complex tax policy, and direct investment by the government in the economy all work to hamper a truly free and vibrant market, and we are doing all those things in spades. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) greatly increases the burdens on employers- it increases their costs and increases their regulatory burden, both making it harder for them to hire new employees. The direct investment by the government in various industries (Solyndra being the most notorious example) is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is also a disincentive to investment. When economic success in an industry becomes tied to who is politically connected enough to get favorable government deals, private investment becomes paralyzed. There is just too much risk of being in the position of betting against the government.
Romney worked for many years at Bain Capital. That company invested in struggling companies to try to turn them around. Some of the complaints against Bain have to do with outsourcing jobs or laying off workers. But any successful businessman knows that hard choices sometimes have to be made in order to help a business succeed. His job at Bain was to maximize shareholder profits, not to preserve everyone’s job. But as president, his job would be different- his job would be to foster conditions that would make business success most likely. His experience at Bain makes him very well suited to know what those conditions are; what conditions encourage businesses to succeed and what makes them more likely to fail. As the president, he will not have control over all of those conditions. But he will have control over many of them. He will know why CEOs have to make tough choices to lay people off or offshore jobs. He will know that CEOs don’t make such choices because they want to, but because they have to. As president, he will be uniquely well-suited to changing the conditions so that CEOs don’t have to make those hard choices quite as much.
He was also the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. He did much good there, reining in spending and balancing the budget. He also passed a controversial piece of legislation often called “Romneycare”, which is similar in some respects to Obamacare. Many conservatives will not vote for Romney because of this piece of legislation. The differences however are profound. Romneycare includes a mandate that people buy insurance or pay tax penalties; it also provides means-tested subsidies for those who cannot afford insurance. These are the two major similarities. Romneycare however does not create a huge new regulatory structure, does not effectively take over the health care industry, does not require thousands of new bureaucrats. Romneycare was an 80-page bill; Obamacare is over 2000 pages long. The individual mandate, as offensive as it is to many conservatives (including me), is really only the least of the problems that Obamacare brings.
Even where there are similarities, however, major differences must be kept in mind.
First, Romneycare is constitutional. The states can do things like impose mandates on their citizens. Whether it’s a good idea or not is a different question. Obamacare is a federal law, and therefore violates the constitution. The requirement to buy insurance was passed as a mandate, and a majority of Supreme Court justices ruled that as a mandate it violates the constitution. It would violate the constitution whether the Supreme court said it did or not.
Secondly, and this I think is the key point: The context is completely different. Massachusetts is a liberal state that had already passed a number of provisions making insurance very expensive. They had passed a requirement that people be covered regardless of preexisting conditions, and had many expensive coverage mandates, things like infertility treatments and substance abuse counseling. The insurance market in Massachusetts was already broken. These measures were politically popular, however. Given this situation, the most conservative, free-market approach to fixing the existing problem, Romney and his advisers thought, was to require people to buy insurance and not simply to wait until they got sick to do it.
Obamacare, on the other hand, imposes both the coverage requirement regardless of preexisting conditions, and the mandate to buy insurance. Romneycare was trying to fix a broken system in Massachusetts. Obamacare breaks the national system even more than it is before trying to fix it. Obamacare not only imposes the individual mandate that Romneycare had, it also imposes all the expensive, system-breaking rules that made the individual mandate necessary in Massachusetts. These differences are really key. Even given these differences, I think Romneycare was a bad idea, and I think subsequent history bears this out, but it was an attempt to fix a broken system, and given the preferences of a very liberal state, it was a good try. Romney has repeatedly said that what might have been a good option for Massachusetts would be a very bad option for the whole country.
Mitt Romney was also instrumental in turning around the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. The Olympics were on their way to being a disorganized mess. But Romney stepped in and turned it around, and it went on to be a glowing success.
A Record of Execution
These three examples- Bain Capital, the Salt Lake Olympics, and his governorship of Massachusetts, all show Mitt Romney to be a problem-solver. He has made a career out of stepping into very difficult situations and finding solutions. Most of the time he has succeeded. He is a believer in free markets, limited government, personal accountability and freedom, and his history has shown this. His pick of Paul Ryan as vice president shows a commitment to conservative principles as well.
On other issues of concern to Christians, he is solid. He is anti-abortion, supporting exceptions only in the case of rape, incest or the life of the mother. He is opposed to gay marriage, though supporting some limited domestic benefits. He is not perfect, but still would be a huge improvement from where we are now.
Of all the candidates that ran for this office on the Republican side this year, none brought more of exactly the kind of experience we need in this situation than Mitt Romney. Some candidates brought more red meat for the Republican base. Some had more of the “correct” opinions. But being a good president is about more than having the right views. It is about the ability to get things done. He is the chief executive; he must execute. Romney has shown an ability to execute far beyond any other Republican candidate. His very well-run campaign is proof of his ability to execute; that ability is why he is winning the nomination. He has shown great personal discipline, one of the major reasons he has defeated many of his erratic and scandal-plagued opponents.
Romney is surrounded with highly influential and very conservative advisers. Men like John Bolton (foreign policy) and Robert Bork (judicial appointments) have been on board the Romney campaign from early on. The Ryan pick solidifies that- Paul Ryan has the most conservative, most tangible plan to actually rein in entitlements, cut the budget and balance the books. The Ryan budget is not perfect but it’s a whole lot better than anything else that has been seriously proposed.
So I’m not voting for the “lesser of two evils”, except from the perspective that Romney isn’t perfect. If that’s what is meant then we’re always voting for the lesser of two evils, unless Jesus is on the ballot. I’m voting for Romney because I believe he has the plan and the experience to do a great deal of good for the country right now. I’m not just voting against Obama; I am voting for Romney. Romney is not well-suited to do all the things that need done, but no president ever gets a chance to do more than three or four important things. If we don’t get the economy going, rein in spending and begin to limit government’s reach into our lives, nothing else is going to even be possible anyway. Romney is patching up the gunshot wound before we attend to long-term care.
I’ll address the Mormon issue in a future post. (UPDATE: Here it is.)