A moderate Mitt

We need a president who will help pull the parties together and reject partisanship.

by Derek Olson

In the last month of the race for the White House, Gov. Mitt Romney has been alone in his push for the moderate vote. President Barack Obama seems to have forgotten how much Americans crave bipartisanship. Independents and moderates now constitute 42 percent of the electorate, according to a recent New York Times poll. Remember when Obama raved about bipartisanship on the campaign trail in 2008? That ideal quickly changed, turning into relentless blame, attack and disparaging of his opponents.

Eighteen months into his first term, Obama said of the Republicans, “They drove our economy into the ditch. … I don’t want to give them the keys back. They don’t know how to drive.” Contrast that with what Paul Ryan has said, both on the House floor and the campaign trail. “Both parties got us in this mess, and both parties have to get us out of it.”

In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, with majorities in the House and Senate, the Democrats had the ability to focus on whatever legislation they desired, and they paid little attention to the concerns of their colleagues across the aisle.

Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, had zero Republican votes; even 15 percent of House Democrats dissented. On financial regulation, Democrats had ample opportunity to find agreement with Republicans, who were livid over the “too big to fail” issue. However, this provision of the Dodd-Frank Bill became so watered down that it actually paves the way for future bailouts. Many Republicans wanted to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but Dodd-Frank didn’t even address them.

In the first presidential debate, Romney surprised many, including his opponent, by making a strong move toward the center. Since then he has aggressively campaigned as a moderate dealmaker who can reach across the aisle. Obama on the other hand, has continued his rhetoric of blame and attack. It’s difficult for any president to work with both parties, but we can’t have a leader who has given up on the task.

Romney’s moderate views are often mistaken or deviously portrayed as flip- flopping. Take for example his infamous New York Times opinion piece, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” He wrote the article in 2008 opposing a blank-check bailout, arguing that these companies needed restructuring through bankruptcy or they wouldn’t survive. He supported certain government actions to help the auto industry back on its feet, but he vehemently opposed the unconditional bailout. Romney’s attackers have falsely twisted his words, capitalizing on a common misunderstanding that bankruptcy always means the death of a business. It doesn’t. His attackers use the title of his article to falsely imply he would have had the government completely turn its back on the auto industry. He would not have.

In the third presidential  debate, when Romney repeated the same language of his article and interviews, Obama fiercely retorted “Governor, that’s not what you said. … You did not say you would provide government help. Let’s check the record.” Well, the record has been checked, and Obama is not familiar with or understanding of the views of his opponent. That’s not the kind of leader who will find compromise and bipartisan agreement. It’s easy to paint the disagreement with two simple sides: supporting government help or not. Romney’s position was more sophisticated than that, supporting only certain types of government help. One can disagree with Romney’s position; however, one cannot argue that his position has changed.

The truth is that communicating complex standpoints, such as Romney’s views on the auto bailout, to millions of voters is difficult. Most individuals do not concern themselves with politics every day, and even fewer are intimately familiar with the intricacies of bankruptcy law or whatever topic is at hand. It is far easier for simple, albeit false, proclamations of flip-flopping to reach and persuade a wide audience.

Moderates recognize that there’s a simple, elegant solution to every problem, and it’s wrong. Moderates recognize that effective policy is not accomplished with a one-size-fits-all ideology. Romney does not have a record of flip-flopping. He has a record of moderation.

Has anyone ever bothered to ask why flip-flopping is such a reprehensible offense anyway? Shouldn’t it be respectable to admit that we are not always right and adjust our views accordingly? Wisdom begins with the admission of ignorance. That’s not to say that leaders should confess ignorance, but they should exercise discretion, be open minded and wary of practicing ideology as law instead of guide. Our political climate doesn’t reward open mindedness. It strongly discourages it, and that’s a serious problem. Capitol Hill has become increasingly divided and vociferously demanding of partisan and ideological loyalty.

The coattails of the presidency have great influence on the legislative branch. We need a president who will pull his party closer to the center, not farther from it. We can’t seem to pass policies that please more than half of Americans. Though it’s impossible to please everyone, we can do better than half.

If Obama is re-elected, the next four years are likely to look like the last two. Incessant battling with a Republican-dominated House that results in a gridlocked Legislature unable to vote anything into law.

Almost all Americans agree we need more compromise in Washington, more reaching across the aisle and a productive Legislature. That hasn’t happened by any standard under Obama’s leadership. We could use fewer hard-nosed ideologues and more moderation. Romney would be a good start.