It’s a tradition when Election Day looms, candidates for President fashion their closing argument to voters. Even when they have nothing new to offer they attempt to make a definitive case. On a deeper level they are asking for the confidence and trust of the American people in the final hours before the last votes are cast. Mitt Romney is no different than other presidential candidates in this regard, but he has no closing argument to make, though he no doubt has much to say.
A closing argument presupposes a prior dialogue; a closing argument concludes a social contract. A closing argument summarizes what had been an ongoing discussion in a final powerful appeal to reason that extends beyond emotions alone. Mitt Romney chose not to pursue an open and probing exchange with the American people during his campaign for President, so he can’t now present a closing argument for a conversation that never happened. What he concludes with now instead is a mere exhortation, and a naked appeal for loyalty that he refused to make the effort to legitimately earn.
We are proud of our Democracy and democracy for us means much more than a methodology for establishing a government. It is a reoccurring covenant between those who seek to lead us and the citizenry who seek those who best represent us. Democracy rests on our ability to make informed decisions about those who we literally must choose to govern us. Mitt Romney failed his part of the essential social contract. He consistently errs on the side of sharing what he wants us to hear as opposed to revealing what we have a valid need to know. Romney has done so in ways both small and large. He has done so by commission as well as by omission. He has done so by indifference, and he has done so by intent. In so doing he has failed a basic test of leadership.
It is not the only failing Mitt Romney has exhibited, but it is the central one. He systematically restricts our ability to know both how and where he would lead us if given that opportunity. For one thing Romney is a commiserate cherry picker of the past He embraces the personal success of his business career but evades responsibility for the dark side of Bain Capital, a company he created and charted the course for. It’s a company that Romney still massively profits from, yet when confronted by politically unpalatable business choices Bain made while he remained its C.E.O. he called his legal title then a technical formality only, and washed his hands of consequences. When now pressed about substantial ongoing investment income from companies that outsource to China he says his hands are clean because his holdings are in a blind trust. Yet in 1994 he said, “The blind trust is an age old ruse, if you will, which is to say you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do.”
Mitt Romney brags about “saving the Olympics” but neglects to note that he did so in large part by successfully begging for a massive bail out from Congress. Yet he daily belittles the role of the public sector in keeping our nation great. Mitt Romney takes great pride in having served as Governor of Massachusetts, but he disavows the platform that won him his single term there. He boasts about “not raising taxes” as Governor but is silent about the hundreds of millions of dollars in new “fees” that he introduced instead. Romney selectively (depending on the audience) takes credit for his primary bipartisan achievement in Massachusetts, Romneycare; while continually pledging to destroy that same model on a national scale, while promising to later restore popular aspects of it, but refusing to say how.
Mitt Romney is the son of another Governor who once ran for President himself, a father who he expresses great love and admiration for. When George Romney ran for the Presidency he set the gold standard for transparency and self disclosure. When he released 12 years of personal tax returns George Romney remarked “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” Though Mitt Romney released 23 years of past full tax returns to the McCain campaign when he was vetted as a possible VP choice in 2008, he now says most of two years of actual returns and a summary report from prior years is all that voters need to know. This from a man who admittedly has secret Swiss bank accounts and off shore tax havens and an army of personal accountants skilled at exploiting arcane tax dodges that most Americans don’t even know exist.
Mitt Romney routinely passes off politically popular goals for America that sound suspiciously like a free all you can eat lunch buffet, as if they were real plans for actually achieving them. When pressed, once again, details are scant. The voters, Romney says, don’t need them before Election Day. Like Nixon and the Viet Nam war, we should content ourselves with knowing that he has a plan.
Republicans of course do have a detailed economic blueprint, albeit a politically unpopular one. It is called the Ryan budget, and Mitt Romney personally picked its author as his running mate, even though Paul Ryan had no prior foreign policy or executive experience to speak of. Paul Ryan’s rose to prominence because of that budget plan. Romney chooses to distance himself from the math that plan depends on, despite choosing to make Paul Ryan next in line for the presidency.
This list, unfortunately, could go on for pages but the pattern is abundantly clear. Like the punch line from a popular perfume ad from many years past, Romney will promise us anything, but he will give us… what?
For better or worse, Barack Obama is the incumbent in this election, and he has an actual record to run on that voters have access to weigh when they ponder who to reward with their trust. As the challenger Mitt Romney was tasked with presenting a credible alternative to voters, not just an opportunity to choose “other”. Mitt Romney never made his case to be President. Time is up, and his arguments remain hollow.