Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mitt Romney and the Ridiculous Modern Presidency

And then there’s Mitt.

After all the speechifying and handshaking and recriminations and commercials and countless debates, the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination ends pretty much where it began: with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the presumptive winner.

The most recent pretender to the Republican crown was former Senator Rick Santorum, who bowed out of the GOP contest in advance of an uncertain primary in his home state of Pennsylvania. For this, the party and the country should be grateful. Had he carried the Keystone State and somehow gone on to seize the nomination, Santorum would have remained a tough sell.

Simply put, Santorum is not suited to be president of the United States. That’s not a slight. The vast majority of us are not cut out to be president, including the guy who currently has the job.

The problem is not Santorum’s social policies – some of which have been amplified and even outright fabricated through the power of those pesky, worldwide interwebs – it is his demeanor. He is too intense at the wrong times. One could easily see Santorum as the guy arguing a call in a friendly softball game, and taking it way too far.

And so, it shall be Romney.

Despite being preferable to Santorum, Romney is nowhere near our first choice, and he is not even in our top ten list of prominent Republicans we’d wish to see as the GOP standard-bearer this November (Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Jon Kyl, Marco Rubio, Rudy Giuliani, David Wilkins, Bill Frist, and Mitch McConnell, please call your offices). But here we are. Romney personifies Ben Franklin’s axiom that politics is the art of the possible (or, perhaps more infamously, Donald Rumsfeld’s musings on America’s preparedness for the Iraq war) – since it is not possible to have the nominee we might wish for, we must do the best we can with whom we have.

As regular readers know, this column would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, so let us apply this philosophy to Mitt’s nomination.

One of the qualities that recommend him is that no one is ever going to get misty about the guy. There is no romance to Romney. If anyone ever faints at a Romney rally, the reasons will be purely medical, utterly unrelated to whatever charisma is emanating from the stage.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan opines that America is moving toward a “post-heroic presidency.” That is, we will cease to consider the president some kind of public sector demigod, and recognize him simply as a citizen with a job to do. If this is true, now more than ever, it will be a very good thing. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was embarrassing, what with the chanting and the race-baiting idol-worship and the “Yes we can” rhubarb that resulted in the election of this preening, ridiculous person as president. The intervening, desolate four years and the fatuity of his term of office permit us to call that phenomenon what it was: sheer, mass idiocy, demonstrating Winston Churchill’s aphorism that, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

But, his acolytes and self-regard notwithstanding, Obama cannot be blamed for the layers of nonsense that come with the job. To wit, the modern presidency is a pompous absurdity. With its giant airplanes, its 17-car motorcades, its Praetorian Guard of a security detail and on, the office demands more deference than King George III ever did. It has taken longer than most – over two centuries – but the American Revolution has gone the way of all others: The revolutionaries have made themselves royalty.

Moreover, the American president is no longer the Leader of the Free World in any meaningful sense. Besides that the nation’s self-imposed, weakened economic state represents a de facto abdication of leadership, America is arguably the least-free country in the West. With federal “security” checkpoints posted everyplace from freeways to bus stations to sporting events, a Treasury that demands tax filings and complete account information from citizens and “U.S. persons” living abroad (anomalous among other tax treaty nations, which properly believe people should simply file and pay taxes where they reside), and a criminal justice system with a conviction rate north of 90 percent (the upshot of which is that the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners), the “land of the free” is now little more than a song lyric. In short, America will search your person, take your money, and lock you up quicker than any other “free” country in history.

Would President Romney fix all this? Doubtful. Unless his anodyne economic policies and milquetoast pronouncements are masking a robust agenda of true reform (and thus far, such indications exist only in the columns of the recently unrecognizable Ann Coulter, a surprising and relentless Romney cheerleader), he will mostly likely lower expectations of the office while managing America’s decline. Even so, he beats the alternative.

As to his chances of winning, Larry Kudlow calls Romney perhaps, “the most underrated politician in America.” He’s a grinder. Many times during the GOP contest, Romney found himself eclipsed by other candidates, but he stuck to his game plan and wore them out. This augurs well for the general election, however pointless his presidency might prove.

If Gandalf the Grey taught us anything (and plainly, he did), it is this: “Even the wisest cannot see all ends.” From here, certainly, it seems America is pooched, and no potential president has the prescription to save it. But of the available options, Romney gives the country its best chance. Perhaps, somehow, circumstances will align such that Romney’s cautious, managerial, split-the-difference approach to governing will be just what the nation needs.

And if Romney’s stunning lack of star power reminds America that its president is just a person, and its politicians work for us, not the other way around, he will have served his country well. In this way, perhaps government of the people, by the people, for the people may return to the earth.

Theo Caldwell, an international investor and broadcaster, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at