Cleverness is perhaps the most overrated commodity in politics. Yet the practitioners of slick messaging and smearing are held in high esteem by that group of would-be sports writers and entertainment reporters masquerading as political commentators. Lee Atwater certainly did a smashing job, as did Mike Dukakis in 1988. And, oh my goodness, isn't Karl Rove good at avoiding issues. James Carville's "it's the economy, stupid" or "feel your pain," that certainly builds a solid foundation for an incoming administration.
Unfortunately, it doesn't. George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign gave no hint on what he would do. He broke his "no new taxes" pledge right off the bat and gave a vision of America that was so vacuous that voters dumped him in 1992. Bill Clinton served eight years and achieved two years worth of salutary results. George W. Bush promised "compassionate conservatism" and delivered mid-1960's liberalism. The campaigns were superb in getting a candidate elected, but made it impossible to govern.
While few candidates have won without resorting to vague formulations, Ronald Reagan did and to a smaller degree Barack Obama managed to triumph without tricks. Mitt Romney, however, has followed the playbook of the "get-elected-first-and-govern-later" crowd. He has conducted a campaign solely based on attacks. His speech on Obama's economic program was chided for lack of facts and downright falsehoods. As well, he accepts Paul Ryan's budget without seeming to know what is in it. He is heading down the road of George H.W. Bush hoping to rely on his opponents' shortcomings.
Obviously, Romney desires to keep all his options open. Shrewd, but how effective is it in the long run? If he repudiates his campaign, he risks infuriating his own party. Becoming a liberal Republican one suspects will not go down with many voters already suspicious of his veracity and lack of political core. As with Bush 2, he will probably be a spender, but after what happened to Bush 1, he won't dare offer a tax hike.
Perhaps Romney will be forced to explain, as G.W. did, why the deficit hit a record 18.5 percent of gross national product in 2007, before Democrats even got organized in Congress. Obama managed to lower that to 14.9 percent in 2010 - before the tea party "Paul Reveres" showed up. Or, maybe, Romney can somehow cleverly explain that cutting spending will not suffice to lower deficits; or that going the Paul Ryan route will probably plunge the nation into a recession.
Somehow the denizens of the Ayn Rand "soak the middle class" ideas can't offer up answers of why that spendthrift Lyndon Johnson, with a war in Vietnam and on poverty, managed to have a budget only 2.9 percent of Gross National Product. The myth that federal spending created the problems of the economy or the deficit has been the big lie of the GOP and outriding groups. Reagan's tax cuts opened the door, but George W. Bush's rate reductions and rebates made federal finances vulnerable to any financial downturn. No wonder he urged the nation to shop after Sept. 11, 2001.
Truth is Romney and the Republican leaders in Congress have no new ideas. Living in the 1980's they see Reagan's modest kick start of the economy as somehow a boom. Compare LBJ's 7 percent 1964, 8 percent 1965 and 9 percent 1966 growth in GNP to Reagan's best of 6 percent in 1984. Bear in mind Reagan's defense budget was rivaling Johnson's even without a Vietnam. Simply he placed burdens on the states while allowing the Congress collectively and he to crow that they made hard choices.
To think you can grime your way to the White House may be correct, but if you do, don't be terribly disappointed if your administration is merely a marking of time. Romney is all tactics and negative messages. He refuses to explain anything in detail. Ruining good Conservatives' reputations is one thing, offering an alternative to an incumbent is quite the other. Perhaps Mitt should give the voters a glimpse of what he might do as president of the United States.