Monday, April 04, 2005

Govern-not Mitt Romney wants red states to know he has a conscience. And he’s voting it. Eager to pander to his imaginary out-of-state political base, he has taken a brave symbolic stand against paraplegics, sufferers of Parkinsons, and medical science in his home state, by promising to veto a bill that flew through the legislature allowing stem cell research in Massachusetts. Romney's veto will have no practical effect, but it’s another way for him to make national headlines, his chief purpose in office.

Romney is a legend in his own mind. Politically speaking he is not particularly well-liked by anyone, even his supposed constituency. This is not terribly unusual for a politician, but there is a tipping point. In politics, shameless self-promotion, in order to be effective, should be offset by at least the appearance of public service. When it is not, the results can be, well, embarrassing, as they were in the last election, where Romney’s campaigning was a real liability to his party.

It’s pretty clear that Romney is about as fond of his in-state public as it is of him. And he wants out-of-staters to know it. He has been campaigning abroad by dissing his home state, apparently in the hopes of winning his party’s nomination for president in 2008. He’s gotten this far on those ‘70s soap star looks, but if he wants to play in the big leagues he’ll need a makeover, at the very least. Unfortunately, he’s alienated all the queer eyes in Massachusetts, wooing them locally and bashing them in the national press. His flip-flopping on women’s issues and gay rights makes John Kerry look like a preschool tumbler. His record on the economy is less than stellar.

Wherever Romney goes from here, he will have to run on his failures, pleading powerlessness against economic, political, and social forces beyond his control. He believes he can parlay defeat into victory on the national stage, where, if recent history is any indication, incompetence is not a problem. Like Bush, Kerry, and Kennedy, Romney is himself the privileged son of a politician, and an ivy league grad. He is following the natural course of the patrician class of this new gilded age. He has shown little interest in the welfare of Massachusetts, but a keen interest in self-promotion, playing bait and switch with hot-button issues, and exploiting them for what he sees as his birthright: a shot at the White House. His motto could be: “Ask not what your governor can do for his state, but what your state can do for her governor.”

We get the politicians we deserve, and there may be a lesson in this for all of us. If we want real leaders we should stop rewarding over-groping aristocrats with delusions of grandeur, and look to more vibrant segments of an ethnically and economically diverse population for men and women who truly want to govern, not simply pursue their personal ambitions at the cost of the governed.

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