FDR 1932 - Romney 2012?
Jay B Gaskill
In today’s (Friday 13 Jan, New York Times) you can find David Brooks at his insightful best.
“The CEO in Politics”
In my last article (“Romney Regret?” http://jaygaskill.com/RomneyRegret.htm) I concluded my take-apart of the current conservative discontent with a section on What Matters Most, by making two points:
· Passion is overrated, but trust is essential;
· And that, in this coming presidential election, two things will matter greatly; they are temperament and character.
Davis Brooks wisely treats the Bain Capital issue as secondary, making the point that-
“…for every Michael Bloomberg who successfully moves from business to politics, there is a …Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina — former executives who were either unsuccessful in political office or who couldn’t get elected in the first place. If you look back over history, you see that while business success can sensitize a politician to the realities other executives face, there’s little correlation between business success and political success. The traits that actually correlate with successful presidencies have deeper roots.”
David Brooks is spot on this time because he’s addressing character. More…
“First, successful presidents tend to be emotionally secure. They have none of the social resentments and desperate needs that plagued men like Richard Nixon… They were infused, often at an elite prep school, with a sense of obligation and responsibility to perform public service.
“…great leaders tend to have an instrumental mentality. They do not feel the office is about them. They are just God’s temporary instrument in service of a larger cause. Lincoln felt he was God’s instrument in preserving the union. F.D.R. felt he was an instrument to help the common man and defeat fascism. This sense of being an instrument gives them an organizing purpose. It gives them a longer perspective, so they don’t get distracted by ephemera. It means their administration marches in one direction, even though it is flexible and willing to accept incremental gains along the way. In sum, great presidents are often aristocrats and experienced political insiders. They experience great setbacks. They feel the presence of God’s hand on their every move. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about these things openly these days.”
I particularly agree with that last line, but I must add – especially in the New York Times. And when David Brooks wrote that “Today’s candidates have to invent bogus story lines to explain their qualifications to be president”, I am compelled to add - especially Mr. Obama.
Certain obvious contrasts immediately come to mind: There is no literary hagiographic exercise like “Dreams of my Father” for Governor Romney. His is a transparent, factual narrative. Mitt Romney really was the manager who saved the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics; he really did serve as the governor of Massachusetts 2003-2007, and he really did help found Bain Capital in 1984 and really did manage Bain Capital from 1984-1990 and again from 1992-1999.
You will find no internet chatter about “Where are Romney’s ex-girlfriends?” or about missing grade transcripts or papers or questionable associations or youthful indiscretions. Of course, the absence of scandal does not in itself constitute a sufficient qualification for POTUS. But historical authenticity is a solid start for any general character assessment.
David Brooks’ Op Ed concludes with -
“In reality, Romney’s Bain success is largely irrelevant to the question of whether he could be a good president. The real question is whether he has picked up traits like emotional security, political judgment and an instrumental mind-set from his upbringing and the deeper experiences of life.”
In my own piece, I noted FDR’s 1932 race-
Recall that first election when FDR ran against Hoover in 1932? It was a referendum on Hoover’s failure, not necessarily a mad rush to the charismatic New York governor who, by the way, criticized Hoover for overspending and promised a balanced budget! FDR’s real charisma was acquired after he was sworn in. He earned it in wartime and depression because he was a faithful, reliable, reassuring leader. The American people, including republicans, trusted him.
The character of a great leader may or may not be presaged in a tough campaign. One’s campaign persona is only a shadow – or in Mr. Obama’s case, a mere projection. The real test is governance in rough times.
I believe that the American people have lost their naiveté, partly as a result of the reality of the Obama presidency. A sober majority of the American electorate will have no fairy dust illusions when the president is sworn into office on Sunday, January 20, 2013. That president will be required to navigate the ship of state through some of the stormiest waters we have endured in half a century.
Copyright© 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, except for the pull quotes from David Brooks, which are Copyright © 2012 by The New York Times.
This piece was first published on the Dot 2 Dot Bog and the Policy Think Site.
Forwards, links and attributed references and pull quotes are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, contact the author - firstname.lastname@example.org .
Jay B Gaskill is a California Attorney.