Mitt Romney began his campaign with one premise: His expertise in venture capitalism uniquely qualifies him to fix the economy and create jobs, and the Democrats made a big deal of examples of his failure to create jobs. The conflict then devolved to whether Romney was qualified to be president and the Republicans claimed Obama was not qualified either because mostly — gasp!— he was just a community organizer and therefore anti-business and anti-capitalism.
Vice President Joe Biden once in a while gets it right and sometimes gets it wrong. Equating the governing skills of an investment banker with a plumber was silly but his assertions that “he (Romney) does not get us” (an audience of blue collar workers) was closer to the truth. The point Biden was making was that the less than elite did not have “rich” envy. They wanted to be rich themselves, but that they had “opportunity” envy and the GOP was bent on restricting their opportunity to succeed, whether it was access to education or to jobs in the face of layoffs caused by venture/vulture takeover capitalists' uncaring business practices.
The GOP's response, sneering that Obama's record as a community organizer disqualifies him to the president, hit me as strange, especially since they also try to define him as an ivory tower professor who is out of touch with the real world. What in the world is wrong about getting down and dirty with struggling people to understand how those who are different than you think, feel, and struggle?
More of that experience might have helped Romney connect with more people instead of trying to pose of one of them. It did not work. The GOP launched a diversionary strategy, that any attack on Romney's decisions at Bain Capital is an attack on all private equity corporate takeovers and capitalism as a whole. The Obama team fumbled a response, saying they were only attacking Romney's “values” and intensified attention to the collateral damage his decisions or his company caused to working people who lost income, health care, and pensions. Lately, Obama's surrogates have tried to clarify that their attack was not on capitalism but to make the case that Romney himself had not translated his expertise to good public policy.
The debate could be recast in terms of who has a sense of “community interests.” That is not the drumbeat of the Tea Party whose single-minded attention is to their own financial interests, whether it is opposing higher taxes or any restraint on their freedom to do what they please that benefits their own interests. I stumbled on a quotation posted on the Republican Men's Club website that defines what it means to be Republican in politics in today's society:
“… it requires listening to constituents and understanding their role in the ‘global' perspective. Leadership is involvement: the prudent application of wisdom for the benefit of the whole, or at least as many as possible while ensuring that those in the minority have a say …”
Many investment bankers have successfully taken their skills to government and the Obama administration, but they brought with them a sense of community they already possessed. Romney has not demonstrated that his sense of community extends past his skills to analyze a balance sheet and to act on the bottom line. Political leadership also demands a cost benefit analysis of community impact.
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