That Mitt Romney’s shaky credentials, inexcusable demeanour and political acumen are rather less than presidential has become painfully obvious even to his own rightwing base. His defiant secrecy over his tax returns and his involvement in Bain has made voters suspicious, while his contrived aw-shucks efforts to appeal to the ordinary American have backfired, leaving him looking even more plastic and out of touch than ever.
His multitude of embarrassing overseas gaffes has left voters wondering how well he can handle international diplomacy. Romney’s deceptive attack ads, his recurring flip-flops, his failure to stand up for the rights of Americans who happen to be women, gay, elderly, poor or even middle class is turning many voters off.
But it’s his intransigent, inexplicable vagueness that really has the right wing pulling out their hair. Romney and his advisers are almost pathologically averse to divulging tangible specifics that might give an opponent a basis on which to attack him. This arrogant “just shut up and trust us, and we’ll tell you what our secret plans are after the election” approach isn’t really resulting in a surge of voter enthusiasm or confidence. Even with Republican effort to rig the election, both by disenfranchising voters as well as delegates to their own convention, conservatives seem increasingly resigned to the likely possibility that their candidate will lose this election.
Conservative columnist John Podhoretz of the New York Post reproached Romney for his lack of policy agendas. Romney’s strategy of saying nothing that might offend the minority of uncommitted and independent voters means he’s saying nothing, period. Despite his quite laughable claim that Obama has the advantage of “a lapdog media,” Podhoretz practically begs Romney to supplement the “sugar rush” of spirited speeches, potent soundbites, or a lively interview with “more substantive nutrition in the form of substantive policy addresses, position papers, etc.”
Businessman Peter J. Hansen wrote an open letter published in the conservative magazine, Weekly Standard, pleading with Romney to strengthen his position with a “more detailed discussion of policies you would enact.” This hollow assertion that Romney was more competent than President Obama needed to be bolstered by his “speaking in more detail about a range of financial issues.” Hansen even advised Romney that he might want to take a page out of detestable Bill Clinton’s book, because his speech at the DNC “offered just the right level of detail.” Jensen told Romney, “Talk about jobs, yes, but also about specific policies and the effect they would have, and about a vision of our economy and society which makes it plausible that your administration will really cause job creation [...] more importantly, it would demonstrate understanding and ability in economic matters generally. It would put more meat on the bones of your assertion of greater competence.”
Even Scott Walker, after a bitter recall battle in Wisconsin, publicly advised Romney to become more specific about what he would do as president. From Bill Kristol, the Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush William McGurn, and The Donald, prominent conservatives are worried about Romney’s lack of substance, fearing his campaign is squandering the opportunity for the right to win back the White House. “There's a general sense on the right that a more substantive campaign would be better,” according to National Review editor Rich Lowry.
While Mitt Romney’s all too frequent demonstration of the multitude of reasons why he could, and should, lose this election might seem like good news for the left, it’s his chronic paucity of ideas, oddly enough – this very vagueness about what exactly he would do as president – that could ultimately cause progressives and Democrats some serious headaches. Because while Romney may be more spineless than Gumby, and more clueless than Cher Horowitz, the Republican Party itself is not.
The RNC’s 66 page party platform is anything but vague, and panders so far to the extreme right that it makes Reagan’s 1980 party platform look like a socialist manifesto by comparison. The Tea Party loves it. The NRA has praised it as the most “gun-friendly” platform any party has ever adopted. If that didn’t send a chill down your spine, it also calls for an annual audit of the Federal Reserve with the archaic goal of returning to the gold standard. It reshapes Medicare, including raising the age at which people can receive Medicare. It includes divisive social positions; opposing abortion without exception, not even in cases of rape or the safety of the mother, restricting access to birth control, and opposing same sex marriage.
There’s nothing vague about the desire of rightwing fundamentalist Tea Party zealots that currently control the Republican party to push through authoritarian ‘reforms’ and turn the United States into a fanatical narrow-minded theocracy that benefits the select minority at the expense of the majority of the American people. They don’t care that polls consistently show people don’t trust Romney, or believe his plans - vague as they are – to make huge austerity cuts in public spending while granting tax cuts for the weathy few, gut Obama’s health care system just as it is showing signs of real relief to many who hadn’t a prayer of medical help before, or making massive alterations in Medicare and Social Security will do anything to make American lives any better. As House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading put it, the GOP party platform is “a nice big thick document that we’re going to use as a door jamb and were going to move on and do what we think we should.”
Winning an election is not the same as actually governing a country. But here’s the real rub: A Romney defeat is not necessarily a win for the left. Romney’s loss will only serve to legitimize the extreme ideology of the right, because in their eyes he didn’t work hard enough to champion them. It’s Romney’s vagueness, even if he loses – especially if he loses – that will hurt Obama and those progressives who are fighting for specific, concrete, real objectives. Republicans have already begun to simply marginalize Romney. They will turn him into a poster child for failure, claim he lost because he was incompetent, because he just wasn’t conservative enough, anything but their discredited policy ideas.. Mitt Romney, and his very vagueness, is exactly what the rightwing will use to browbeat any future Republican candidate or politician who even considers compromise or negotiating with an Obama administration. The right is pinning its hopes on 2016, and will only become even more dogmatic, more entrenched, more unreasonable than they already are. As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put it at the RNC convention, a Republican leader changes the polls, but he never allows the polls to change him, regardless of what it might tell him the American people need or desire. Romney himself is expendable – the ideology is not.
We on the left will have a very short time in which to celebrate Romney’s defeat. This isn’t a battle we win in November against one pathetically inadequate candidate; it’s the beginning of the next four years of ugly trench warfare pushing back against the entire insidious scheming of the GOP, or at least what the Republican Party has devolved into. If there is any hope of returning this country to any semblance of sanity, tolerance, prosperity and fairness, we must look beyond the burning wicker man to see the crazy people dancing in his light.