We’ve been on the road, stopping at a couple of charming Bed and Breakfasts in the North Carolina mountains, so I haven’t been blogging with my usual frequency. I also haven’t been glued to my usual sources of political news.
Even so, I have seen the British press’s less-than-admiring coverage of Romney’s visit to England–ranging from a big headline “Mitt the Twit” to “worse than Sarah Palin” to “Do we have another Dubya on our hands?” One columnist described Romney as “devoid of charm, warmth and sincerity.”
Since this visit was initially intended as an extended photo-op–former Olympic savior visits England to cheer on this year’s games–it has been something of a PR disaster.
The most troubling observation by the notoriously sarcastic Brits, however, was the comparison to Dubya. And it is troubling not because Mitt, like George W, constantly displays these “not ready for prime time” moments. Let’s face it, no one is ready to lead the free world. Obama wasn’t, Clinton wasn’t, Reagan wasn’t. (Granted, most of them managed to hide that fact more adroitly.) Even the shared arrogance that leads to these “what were you thinking” moments isn’t the most disturbing characteristic they share.
It’s the people with whom they surround themselves. And actually, on that score, Dubya was better.
When candidates demonstrate that they come up short on knowing, for example, the intricacies of the capital markets, or–in Herman Cain’s memorable formulation–the name of the President of “Ubeki-beki-stan”–most of us understand. The Presidency requires expertise in more subjects than it is fair to expect any candidate to master. So we look to the advisors the candidate has chosen to rely upon. Who is he listening to? How sound are the people around him?
Dubya had some good people (Colin Powell, the early Condoleeza Rice) whose counsel he simply ignored. Their nuanced approach was overpowered by the Dick Cheney/John Bolton/neocon contingent–the purveyors of a Manichean worldview where good and evil were clearly labelled and all the answers were easy ones. (The questions, unfortunately, were generally the wrong ones.)
Romney has chosen to surround himself with the absolute worst of these. Most knowledgable foreign policy experts–Republican and Democrat alike–consider John Bolton crazy. But there he is, at the center of Mitt’s foreign policy team. Most legal scholars will readily admit that Robert Bork is brilliant–but consider his approach to the constitution far out of the mainstream of legal thought (at best) and twisted/dangerous at worst. Bork is advising Mitt on potential Supreme Court nominees.
I could go on, but the bottom line is that for whatever reason–perhaps an effort to solidify the support of the extremist GOP base, perhaps because he actually agrees with them, perhaps because he really doesn’t know better–Romney has surrounded himself with the worst of the Bush Administration’s leftovers. He is listening (presumably) to the people who took us to the edge of depression, who blithely led us into a war of choice in the most unstable and dangerous part of the world, and who still haven’t learned from their mistakes.
A lot of pundits, focused on the horse race, have noted Romney’s frequent gaffes, and attributed them to the absence of good staff work. Fewer have asked the question: if Romney’s campaign people are inept, what can we expect of the people he’d depend upon in the White House? And if the answer to that question is “the worst of Bush’s advisors”–we’d better hope that the Koch brothers and their ilk don’t manage to buy this election.