“Having established his biography, he turns without pause to the question, which he asks himself, ‘Why am I running for president?'”—writes the credulous Brian M. Carney in an Opinionjournal puff piece titled Consultant in Chief What Mitt Romney seems to have in mind is a turnaround project for Washington.

Note the subjunctive mood. Carney writes “What Mitt Romney seems to have in mind,” not what Romney has in mind. At every turn in the conservation Carney continues this theme of befuddlement combined with rationales that that the writer develops to explain what befuddles him about the candidate.

The answer to this question is as abstract as his overture was personal. The “I” in the question seems to disappear … Those, then, are the problems that, in his word, “drive” him. And it’s a pretty good list. But rather than explain why he is the person to solve them, Mr. Romney shifts gears to talk about himself in another sense

… Politicians don’t like to describe themselves as ideological, but most have a core of political precepts. Mr. Romney describes his thus: “Obviously, I have–just like in the consulting world–I have ‘concepts’ that I believe. I believe the free market works and government doesn’t–that when government takes over a function which can be effectively managed in the free market, we make a huge mistake. I think government is almost by necessity inefficient, inflexible, duplicative, wasteful, expensive and burdensome.” This is fairly traditional small-government, free-market conservative talk–or would be, if it weren’t framed as a “concept,” like those used in consulting

… The question for the electorate is whether Mitt Romney is the man of the hour. But when asked whether his “nuts-and-bolts” approach can possibly succeed in an ideological, divided age, he returns to the nuts and bolts

… “But we also have to win Michigan or Ohio. Winning both would be critical. I don’t see how you get there without winning Michigan or Ohio. And I can win Michigan, and I may be able to win Ohio too . . .” At this point, Mr. Romney may have started to worry that it sounded like he was bragging, because he abruptly shifted to a strange form of self-deprecation … Mr. Romney does then introduce a personal element, but it’s not his own person. “If we instead take the course that Hillary Clinton would prescribe,” he warns, “it would lead to America becoming the France of this century …

The emphases are ours, all ours.

Note Carney’s descriptions of Romney’s abrupt, unexpected departures, Carney’s comments on Romney’s unusual locutions, Carney’s attempts to read the Romney’s mind, Carney’s evaluative asides (“strange form of self-deprecation”), and, especially, Carney’s appeals to context, to origins, to “frames” etc. to make sense of Romney’s claims. Note also the writer’s interest in how Romney avoids the issue of, well, of Romney: “The ‘I’ in the question seems to disappear … Mr. Romney does then introduce a personal element, but it’s not his own person” … But rather than explain why he is the person to solve them, Mr. Romney shifts gears to talk about himself in another sense …

What emerges from all this hedging and qualification is the voice of a writer straining to portray a difficult subject in as sympathetic a light as his integrity will allow.

But here is the part of the interview that interests us:

… At any rate, his response to a question about his former disdain for “Reagan-Bush” is consistent with that version of the man. “Reagan gets a lot smarter the older I get,” he allows. He then explains what bothered him then: “I was concerned about what seemed to be looming deficits and inability to rein in spending in those days. And as time has gone on, I’ve recognized that he was brilliant and did the right thing for our economy. And so I may not have been entirely in sync with Reagan-Bush back at the time, but as time has gone on, I think what they proposed was smarter and smarter.”

Framed in that way, what was a flip-flop becomes an openness to reconsider former positions. That may not do much to mollify those who worry about his ideological reliability–he’s changed his views before, so what’s to stop him from changing them again? But it is a kind of Romneyian consistency–belief in what works, belief in praxis over abstract theory or ideology … etc.

Note the binary opposition, theory-praxis, with praxis—or practice, or action—explicitly privileged over “abstract theory” or “ideology.” Carney depicts Romney as a man of action, as a pragmatist, only a pragmatist in want of a pragma, because what Carney confirms is precisely Romney’s centerlessness—what Carney explicitly states is that Romney’s flip-flops—or “openness to reconsider former position”—is “consistent” with Romney’s “belief in what works.” But wait, is it Romney’s reversals that are (internally) consistent?—or is it consistent for Romney to reverse himself on key issues?—Carney offers us no help.

What will work to win the the GOP nomination? Be a conservative. Is such a reversal consistent for Romney? Yes, it is—e.g.:

Kornacki: Not the first time Romney has changed public position on abortion

Well, whatever works, right Carney?

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 opinionjournal’s Carney confirms the centerlessness of Romney even … | Political news - democrats republicans socialists greens liberals conservatives

    […] post by dotan This was written by . Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2007, at 11:34 pm. Filed under […]

  2. 2 Doug Mataconis: “Why Isn’t Anyone Paying Attention To Mitt Romney?” « who is willard milton romney?

    […] (1)-(3) reflects the dawning realization of a lot of people. Romney has prospered because no one has taken him seriously (1). Now that he has build solid leads a full 60 days out from the primary contests in the early states (2), he is suddenly going to get a lot of attention. How will he perform in the harsh lights of center-stage—that is, (3)? We predict: Not well. Consider this botch of an interview for example, in which a highly sympathetic journalist tries, and fails, to put a human face on Romney: opinionjournal’s Carney confirms the centerlessness of Romney even as he argues otherwise […]

  3. 3 the candidate from Bain Capital; more on Romney and the private equity sector « who is willard milton romney?

    […] The equity sector gives us the notion of the “business audit”—imagine a pension fund that has bought into a retail chain. Say also that the chain is too big an investment for the pension fund to allow to fail. So: on the basis of a business audity, the fund—the effective “owner” of the retail chain—supplies the technical and managerial expertise to “turn-around” the retail operation. Does this sound familiar? If you’re a Romney observer, it should. It should sound like Romney’s Bain Capital. It should also sound, sadly, like what Romney wants to do with our government (see his interview with Carney that we discussed here). […]

  4. 4 Ms. Meg Crawford: “There’s something in me that just says ‘no’ [to Romney]” « who is willard milton romney?

    […] opinionjournal’s Carney confirms the centerlessness of Romney even as he argues otherwise […]

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