Monday, January 14, 2008

The ultimate close: or "why is Mitt Romney?"

Watching the caucuses in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire is again a demonstration of some of the great aspects of American democracy. When the Yanks do democracy they really do democracy – shake a million hands in a thousands diners in 500 small towns across one snow covered farming state. The bloke who wants to be the next leader of the Tories or Labour party doesn’t have to do anything like that, they just have to schmooze with the party activists. But it also shows one of the clearest failings of the American democracy as well – that the massive cost of financing a serious campaign which means the candidates all have their hands out all of the time. This allows the rather American phenomenon of being able to pay to play. Currently much speculation still swirls around the New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the possibility of him making a third party run. As all the journos point out, being a multi-billionaire, he could “charge a presidential run to his Amex card. There are many good things that can be said about Mayor Bloomberg, but being able to buy the presidency doesn’t seem to be one of them.

And so to the richest of the candidates who have actually declared themselves to be in the race – Governor Mitt Romney running for the Republican nomination. Romney out-spent the eventual Iowa GOP caucus winner, Mike Huckabee, by an amazing 15 to 1. Indeed until Huckabee actually started to look like he might pull it off in the last days running up to the vote - and as a result began attracting donations that he could then spend - Romney was said to be outspending him 20 to 1. Most of this was Romney’s own money. To be spending tens of millions of your own dollars to get into office would seem to suggest you really, REALLY want to get that job – but in Romney’s case: why exactly?

I first remember hearing about Governor Romney in connections to his health programme in Massachusetts. This must be a two summers ago now – I know this because I remember I was grinding out some miles on my road-bike, listening to a podcast of Radio Open Source on the issue whilst cruising the quiet lanes of Helsinki’s hinterland under sunny skies. Romney’s health plan if I remember correctly included forcing everyone who could to buy insurance, hence spreading the risk as younger, healthier people contributed to the health insurance plan. Meanwhile it extended state insurance to the poor and children. It was being at the time greeted by experts on the left with very slightly bemused support, as a Republican businessman provided a feasible and working model for universal healthcare – the holy grail of the Democratic Party. Additionally with Romney being rather relaxed - as fitted his Massachusetts constituents – on issues such as abortion and gay rights, he seemed to be the Republican it was just fine to like.

But as Romney has run for the Presidency he has run to the right. I recently read all the candidates lengthy contributions to Foreign Affairs journal. Romney’s is more moderate than some of the other Republicans, notably Guilliani, and very managerial and business like. But it is in his domestic policies where his move from moderate to arch-conservative is far more visible. From being pro-Choice he moved to pro-Life. From being relaxed on gay issues he went to the “defend marriage!” gang. From being understanding of migrants, he has gone to the “broken borders” rhetoric of painting illegal immigrants as a security threat and ignoring their all-too-obvious role in maintaining the American economy (such as cutting Mitt’s lawn).

In part this seems to be connected to having to mainstream himself within activist Republican ranks due to his Mormonism – a religion that many evangelical protestants remain very suspicious of – but overall it seems that he simply wants to win. Serving your country in public office can be a noble thing, and in an odd way this particularly so for very rich men like Romney who would surely make much more money if he just carried on as a successful businessman rather than becoming a politician. But if to get elected you can reconstruct yourself as either a moderate as he did to become governor of Massachusetts, and then again as a conservative for a presidential run, it leaves you asking the immortal question of American politics – “where’s the beef?” and the answer is: there is none, only money. And despite the huge power of being able to buy endless TV advertising in the relevant markets, it appears that the Republican voters of Iowa and New Hampshire feel the same way.


Katie said...

Thank You!
American politics normally leaves me very confused but I actually understood this, please keep it up so I can do a vague impression of intelligence when it comes up in conversation!

KGS said...

Toby:"From being understanding of migrants, he has gone to the “broken borders” rhetoric of painting illegal immigrants as a security threat and ignoring their all-too-obvious role in maintaining the American economy (such as cutting Mitt’s lawn)."

Please explain how US's southren border is not broken. You are conflating two different agrguments, one being a call for "anti-immigration" legislation with "illegal immigration" concerns.

As I remember correctly, the + 11 million Mexican immigrant public demonstration meant to shut down American society for a day, was a dismal failure.