Monday, September 26, 2011  |  Boston Herald |  Op-Ed

Mitt Romney is the type of person who should be president:   A business leader with government experience, he is (in many ways) the right man at the right time.

And yet, there remains a palpable lack of enthusiasm for Romney among the Republican faithful.


Blame it on what George H.W. Bush famously called “that vision thing.”

During the 1988 presidential campaign, then-Vice President Bush struggled to emerge from President Ronald Reagan’s shadow.  It was no easy task.

Reagan’s belief in “American exceptionalism” provided the theoretical underpinning for his administration’s policy agenda.  Bush presented himself as a trustworthy steward of Reagan’s legacy, but he had trouble articulating a coherent world-view of his own.

Luckily, his Democratic opponent in 1988 was Michael Dukakis — a candidate with about as much “vision” as a wet towel.  Dukakis styled his campaign as one of “competence” over “ideology.”  By comparison, Bush seemed positively dynamic.

But four years later, Bush’s failure to develop “that vision thing” lost him the presidency to Bill Clinton — the boy from Hope, an emblem of the “American dream.”

Flash forward to 2008.  John McCain’s personal sacrifice and commitment to a cause greater than self presented a compelling narrative — one which set him apart from his Republican primary opponents and, ultimately, won him the party nomination.

McCain’s story of “American heroism,” although deeply moving, was one we had read before (been there, done that).   In the end, it was no match for Barack Obama’s new narrative of “American redemption.”

To a war-weary nation, stunned by a seismic economic collapse, Obama presented himself as savior.  He was the “one we were waiting for” — the one who would heal the earth, unite the races, save the economy and bring about world peace.  He would wash away America’s alleged sins and let us begin anew.  In an uncertain world, Americans placed their faith in a smooth-talking medicine man with plenty of “vision,” but virtually no relevant job experience.

But his promises were hollow, his candidacy a mirage.  “Hope and change” proved to be snake oil — a code for “tax and spend;” “redemption” a euphemism for “blame America.”

So now we have a president who is in way over his head — a president who, in foreign affairs, chooses to “lead from behind”; a president who believes that the answer to every economic problem is to increase the size and reach of government; a president so arrogant that he never ceases to lecture, admonish and talk down to others.

We have an opportunity to change course.

To win in 2012, we must do more than point out Obama’s many failings.  The Republican standard bearer must offer a competing vision of America — a convincing alternative to Obama’s unsustainable economic model and self-flagellating foreign policy.  This election is not only about jobs, taxes and the war in Afghanistan (although those are important parts of the puzzle). It is about American prosperity and international leadership generally.

Not all elections are big, ideological contests. In times of relative calm, Americans sometimes elect caretakers of the current order. But in times of economic and international stress, the electorate looks for “that vision thing.”

We can all agree that Mitt Romney is a competent businessman.  But he is much more than that — and he must let the American people know it.

In last Thursday’s Republican debate, Romney finally ditched the detailed talking points and spoke from the heart about his vision for our country.  If he can continue on this course, he will likely be the Republican nominee in 2012.

But the former Massachusetts governor would do well to remember that competence alone doesn’t win presidential elections.   Just ask Mike Dukakis.


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