Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Choice is Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum: VOTE for Mitt.

Earlier this week Jeremiah made the case for Santorum. And he did so quite well. In fact, I would not object to voting for Santorum in the general election. He’d certainly be an improvement over Obama.

But in the primary, I’m backing Romney. As politics is the art of the possible, every election is properly approached with a “who is my best option” attitude. No one person can, or should be, an end-all savior. So from that perspective, Romney is appealing because I think he is the best option.

With that in mind, I’ll first share my concerns with Santorum. While not nearly as large as my objections to Gingrich or Paul, they remain nonetheless.

Specifically, I worry about his ability to manage money. I read his book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, and was surprised at Santorum’s willingness to start new federal programs to address virtually every local cultural issue. I’m not convinced that this is a proper federal approach, and is particularly misguided in this time of virtually unstoppable federal spending. As a Senator, the Club for Growth determined that he had “a mixed record and showed clear signs of varying his votes based on the election calendar.” Specifically, when he wasn’t preaching fiscal restraint during elections, his “record is plagued by the big-spending habits that Republicans adopted during the Bush years of 2001-2006.” Finally, in the early 2000s, he started a charity to help the Pennsylvania poor. However, most of the money it raised went to running the charity, and only a small portion was actually used for the intended purpose. Poor management (outside of his campaign management) and excessive spending seem to follow Santorum around.

This is not to say that he would be a bad president. But it does indicate that his weakness is managing budgets and running organizations. Since the role of President is administrative even more than legislative, I want someone who I know can administer.

And while I’m on the topic of money, I also find that how a candidate earns his money and what they do with it is another reflection of their character. Santorum recently released his tax records, which show an annual income of around a million dollars - much of it made from lobbying and consulting. Of that, however, only 1.8% made it to charity. Romney, while having a much higher annual income, gives around 14% to charity and came by his wealth from good management of business rather than political lobbying.

I am looking for a candidate who I believe can administer the executive branch of the Federal government. From budgets to bureaucracy and czars to cronyism, Obama has made a mess of the office. All the Republican candidates promise to clean up the mess and I think they all would try--but Romney actually has done it before. Under his leadership, Bain Capital got off the ground and turned a profit, Massachusetts balanced its budget, and the 2002 Olympics went from hundreds of millions in deficits and the risk of being canceled to coming out $100 million ahead. His record in Massachusetts, especially at the beginning of his term, is quite impressive. As the Club for Growth explains:

Governor Romney receives credit for reducing actual spending unilaterally in Fiscal Year FY2003, even though he entered office halfway into the fiscal year, because of the tremendous spending cuts he forced down the Legislature’s throat in January of 2003. Facing a $650 million deficit he inherited from the previous administration, Romney convinced the unfriendly State Legislature to grant him unilateral power to make budget cuts and unveiled $343 million in cuts to cities, healthcare, and state agencies. This fiscal discipline continued in 2004, in which Romney continued to slash “nearly every part of state government” to close a $3 billion deficit.

He was also able to nudge the state to the right in other ways, despite having to work with a Democrat legislature. And he did it all without raising taxes (although he did raise some fees and did close tax loopholes, making the effective tax rate higher for some). That’s the approach that needs to be taken federally and Romney has not only stated that he is willing, but also shown that he is able, to do it.

And, of course, it barely needs mentioning that Romney’s personal life is exemplary. He has been married to his wife Ann for 43 years, whom he stood by through her battles with both multiple sclerosis and cancer. Together they raised their five children, who are now fully grown with children of their own. And in an age known for CEOs taking massive bonuses while their companies fell apart, at Bain, Romney made a point to spread profits to his employees, often keeping less than 10% for himself.

Now I realize he has been accused of being a political chameleon ready to compromise on the social issues of abortion and gay marriage. But, as some have noted, his record in MA is not nearly the blot it is being portrayed. According to those who worked with Romney while he was governor of Massachusetts, many of his so-called “compromises” were actually decisions outside of his control or efforts to mitigate even larger damage. He vetoed bills increasing access to the abortion causing morning-after pill and allowing embryo-destroying stem cell research. He also was highly involved in the effort to amend the constitution to define marriage, and then again in the effort to kill the amendment once it was amended to include civil unions. Finally, particularly relevant at this point is his defense of Catholic charities right to not facilitate adoptions for homosexual couples.

And finally, I cannot write a recommendation of Romney without mentioning what many are calling his biggest failure: the Massachusetts healthcare reform upon which the national healthcare bill is based. But here again, in his defense, Romney has demonstrated an understanding of the federal limits that only reinforces the unconstitutionality of taking a state program nationwide. In so doing, he has shown respect both for the democratic process, proper state authority, and federalism, all at once. If state authority--or as some improperly call it “state’s rights”--means anything it means that states can do things the federal government can’t. It also means that states can adopt misguided policies which, until they are changed, remain in effect. And finally, it means that the states truly still can act as mini-laboratories.

What the nation most needs in a president is not a legislator-in-chief. That’s Congress’ job and those issues must be addressed in legislative races. What we need is a president who can both use the executive power he has to administer the vast federal bureaucracy and who understands the limits of his office and the tenants of federalism.

All candidates in the race are striving to be that candidate. Romney has demonstrated that he already is.

Editor's note: the authors of this blog were divided between Romney and Santorum. Click here to see the case for Santorum.
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